Review of Through the Abyss: Supreme Creation Seriesby Sidney Son

The first thing you may notice about this book is that the cover is reminiscent of Andy Weir’s books. But I approve of covers that convey a book’s comp titles.

The author provides a highly detailed style which coalesces into atmospheric descriptions without sacrificing a quick pace. There is a good balance of narration and dialogue, and about the average amount of exposition. Such a complex set up and execution requires a certain amount of explanation, and the reader is goaded on by an interplay of mystery and context. The mystery in question is thrilling at times, reminiscent of many other scenarios related to heroes saving the planet. It reminded me a lot of Mass Effect in terms of general tone and the texture of the story, which is a plus in my mind. The novel makes use of big cinematic set pieces and science fiction tropes employed for grandiose effect. If you like Rendezvous with Rama and similar spooky s-f explorations with high stakes, you should give this one a go.
The character interactions and backstories were often interesting, but not quite as entertaining as the implementation of speculative concepts, which took center stage in many chapters.
It’s long, with plenty of twists and turns along the way, requiring as much suspension of disbelief as your average blockbuster. Some eccentric dialogue and character reactions, but well-edited on the sentence level. Bizarre creatures and scene by scene dramatic tension, while the author intelligently incorporates many unique ideas into a familiar format offering an enjoyable adventure.

Review of Frankissstein: A Love Storyby Jeanette Winterson

Just great, bold, immersive writing. 

The various perspectives sustain their storylines and characters through intense and quiet moments. Introspective, but with plenty of dense, quippy dialogue. Outrageous sex doll business planning discussions, Mary Shelley in bed with P. B. Shelley, pillow whispering poetry. Humans as monsters and monsters as humans. Redefining humanity through AI, ungendering, and objectification. The future consequences of the liberation of consciousness, the soul, and transhumanism.

The audiobook could’ve benefitted from a de-esser plugin. Winterson’s creepily frank and provocative approach is steeped in literary lore, a strong sense of purpose in her oddball characters, and the convolutions of her prose, comparable to Delillo.

Review of Trafik by Rikki Ducornet

Quirky even for Ducornet.

Suffused with her characteristic charm, wit, sensuality and signature linguistic exuberance. A vivid dreamscape of “tonguefeels.” A melancholic deepening of post-atomic exotic, nebulous human-wannabes on the edge of the pendulous nostalgia-fueled singularity of an entire dissolving civilization.

Memories, avatars, simulations, showerhead massages, spacey antics: both delicious and miraculous. Post-apocalyptic Consumerism, alive with the longing for vanished places, times, and idols, characters rummaging through plasma clouds of kitsch debris, full of colorful improvisation, experimental futurism. A cobbled scatological gumbo. Plenty of subliminal jokes, poppy references and goofy genius.

Containing unprecedented romantic and literary entanglements. It ponders how we are “wired”, how beings titillated by lasers and operating abstruse machinery in vast abysses of stimulating self-creation are only brief, playful extensions of our actual, tru-to-life selves. Written in its matrix latticescape is the secret formula for our doom. A descent through causality is present in its rollicking crescendoes. It is a marriage of low culture with high arts, meted out with aesthetic aplomb out of outer space flotsam. It is smart. It is “supermarvelous.”

I only wish it was longer.
Thank you Edelweiss for the ARC.

Review of The Green Child by Herbert Read

This bizarre novel was broken into three disparate parts, and by ‘broken,’ I mean ruined.

For part one, he might merit 5/5 stars, for part 2, 2/5, and part 3, 4/5. The longest middle section is a droll account of the main character’s life story, his toppling of a dictator, conspiring with revolutionaries, his imprisonment, etc. It was written in an historical style, rather than the lyrical splendor of Part 1.

Part 1 and 3 concerns the ‘green child.’ In the last, short part, we are treated to a reimagining of Plato’s cave allegory, and left with some unanswered questions, but it doesn’t matter because Read is attempting a unique approach, is investing his narrative with mystery and meaning, and this book employs grand, memorable imagery. It is only a shame the writing falters for about half of the book’s length.

A quick read, nonetheless, and one of those books you may never encounter in your natural lifetime but one which must be sought out and captured. It reads like a slightly disturbing dream. If only the author would’ve written more novels, then we might have been treated to a masterpiece. What we have is about on the level of a novella by Arthur Machen.

Review of To Hold Up the Sky by Liu Cixin

The short stories in this volume cover many topics, including concerns and ideas that also appear in The Three-Body Trilogy, but they are used in different settings.

Super-string computers, hollow earth, the value of poetry, total perfect vision of time and space achieved by simulating the original Big Bang and then tracing the trajectory, gods who manipulate matter and energy and probability to compose poetry.
Wildly inventive and scientifically impressive, the stories nonetheless stumble by including absolutely absurd things in them, like the low-temperature artist and the checklist questions asked by super-intelligent extra-terrestrials. When technologies exist for downloading and decoding DNA from light years away, aliens would have no need of Q & A sessions to determine a species’ threat level.

The important part is that much of it is charming, and it is occasionally mind-blowing. When the stories are melodramatic they also capture the eternal truths, the struggle of man against the universe, and his smallness, in a powerful way. Liu succeeds at using fiction as a vehicle to communicate radical ideas.

Review of Into the Violet Gardens by Isaac Nasri

In this very near-future s-f novel, cyborgs and cartels battle it out amid a powder keg political imbalance.

The author provides prose rich with details of setting and character that easily communicates the suffering common to human experience, which constitutes the novel’s beating heart.

Making use of tried-and-true thriller trappings, realistic dialogue, and a multi-layered plot, rather than portraying a generic dystopia, it depicts the very world we live in with a few minor tweaks to make us realize how dystopian it already is outside our windows.

Carried along by relatable characters, the quick-moving scenes will keep you turning pages, among set pieces of brutal violence and cinematic battles, epic in scope. It is grounded in gritty realism and the shifting perspective offers a thorough storytelling lens through which the reader can easily discern oodles of subtext and context. The expert incorporation of technology helps to portray the devastating trials of warfare, while still maintaining an intimate tone with intense focus on movement and action.

The world building, characters, language, action, science fiction elements, and political themes are all well-done in this one-of-a-kind thrill ride.

Review of U-Day (Memory Full, #1) by Rapha Ram

A desperate CEO gives the reader a taste of the morbid underbelly of the near-future society featured in this book in the prologue. 

In this multi-faceted work, the lens through which we perceive the world is Livvy Blunt, a girl with a modern mind, trying to squeeze the meditative regimen of her monastic existence into her overactive imagination. Like any one of us force fed media, and a constant barrage of stimulation since birth, she struggles with reducing the noise. Our gossip-mongering brains tend to speculate, and the customization of the human lifespan is an endlessly beguiling subject.

After a busy prologue establishing a key conflict we are transported to the perspective of our close first-person narrator who leads us on an exploration of an environment detailed and colored by her mind, which is chock full of rich imagery. A seamless interweaving of action and character internal monologue sweeps the reader into the setting.

With an atmosphere containing a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar world-building constraints,
the intriguing premise of the novel develops alongside our growing knowledge of Livvy. Would you trust your welfare to a corporation with power over minds? Oh wait, we already do that in today’s world. Its meditative introspection contains a hint of the zen-like cultivation necessary for a balanced mind. It is an interior journey as much as an exterior one, with a relatable and sympathetic protagonist. The book tackles the omnipresent temptation to succeed in a competitive society, to not be distracted by fun and games, to responsibly take charge of one’s own mental development, and asks hard questions and presents thought-provoking concepts. The pacing was more relaxed than expected and the insights into setting and character rewarded a methodical reading.

Review of Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman

Wow. A stunning book.

An immaculately, intricately, eccentrically written, idiosyncratic soft-s-f, near-future, light-dystopian, quirky pseudo-mystery novel describing the ennui, outrage, absurdity, and maturity of an old-before-her-time child star, with all the camp of kid detective sitcoms and an oceanic undercurrent of eco-unrest. Elegant simplicity. Word-by-word delight. Sentence-by-sentence wonder, awe, and ecstatic enjoyment. A continually beguiling and endearing work of heart-fondling irrealism. My superlatives will begin to sound laxative, but I can’t exude enough enthusiasm. When I inevitably buy and read her other books, I’ll still remember this one clearly, and possibly reread it. It crystallizes in my mind, as I rehash eerie scenes of washed-out vaporwave off-color, watery Californian landscapes, unfolding in warehouses and film sets and virtual forums where conspiracy theorists with clickey keyboards dissect every pixel of our heroine’s filmography and implied psychic landscape. Paparazzi, media corruption, and intimate disinterest infuse the vibrant setting. Told through long dialogue-heavy scenes offering wry wit, surprising character details and moments of existential dread. Sprinkles of philosophic quandaries and poetic fancy. The interior monologues are magnificent, often reminding me of Bae Suah. A. K. will join the list of my favorite, on-the-rise writers, along with Elizabeth Tan. Other comps: Scarlett Thomas, Joy Williams, Dan Chaon and Lucia Berlin, or the countless films and shows describing suburban weirdness, tending toward a noticeable decline into post-apocalyptic predictions that are too on-the-nose.

Review of The Nomad: Book One by Debra J. Tillar

I am a fan of space-journey science fiction. Also a fan of strong female protagonists and wry humor. This novel checks all the boxes.

1 time-travel narratives explore the mystery surrounding a large event, while fewer of them explore the mystery of characters’ pasts. In this novel, the hardships of slavery and an off-world setting provide a thought-provoking meditation on the human condition and relationships while conjuring a classic sci-fi atmosphere and incorporating interlocking timelines into a seamless tapestry of space, time, and intimate human interaction. Our focusing lens into this world is a space shooter with smarm, wit, and an attitude of defiance in the face of her oppressors. Much of her intricacies are unraveled through the journal, but we travel with her, experiencing the confusion, frustration, and fear of her situation.

The author’s solid writing style boasts plentiful sentence variety and much vivid imagery. The quick-paced action scenes are balanced by methodical descriptions that go a long way in establishing the setting and tone. The adventure is laced with layers of subtext to strengthen the reading experience. While it is not a straightforward narrative, it is easy to get absorbed in the author’s world building. I can see this being the start of an engrossing series with epic, cinematic scope, unexpected twists, and complex character development. Pretty quickly, it shapes up to be a real page-turner, utilizing some pulp s-f tropes, but to great effect, like hybrids and fictitious companies, extraterrestrial ecology and the science of interplanetary traversal. The science fiction explanations were well done and the info dumping was not a noticeable problem. Overall, it is a well-edited and smoothly readable book. The mature content does not distract but intrigues and entices, alongside well-established conflicts and non-stop tension. One thing I appreciated is the way the author integrates the interior monolog, injecting the narration with the thoughts and emotions of her main character. Doing this while using the third person is an interesting choice but produces a lucid result. It succeeds in giving you the feel of a future society, with its own accompanying ships, planetary landscapes, and eccentric people. The large-scale set pieces are very detailed but never bogged down by digressions.

Strap in for a wild ride. Recommended for all space opera and futuristic adventure fans.

Review of The Exiles (Rift Walkers Book 1) by Rae Lewis

In Exiles, the first in a series, the reader is introduced to an orphan protagonist who might remind us in some ways of Ender Wiggins, or any really capable kid in fiction or film. 

In her futuristic, but still relatable setting, the author incorporates rich world-building, but in the background, opening with school drama and ominous dystopian issues infringing on the protagonist’s prospects.

As far as dystopian young adult novels go, I am not an expert, but this is a better-than-average immersive read with a likable crew. The author uses familiar tropes in a refreshing way, depicting space-opera-esque moon colonization and well-paced plot points garnished by delightful character interactions containing palpable chemistry with a good deal of subtext suggesting aspects of the society underlying the world they inhabit.

I found the technology to be realistically incorporated and the description was effective at painting a picture without bogging down the plot. She couples this with good technical explanations and a constant sense of tension. While some components seems similar to other YA stories where kids are recruited and trained for space antics, the conflict arises differently here. There is plenty of action to keep young and old adults equally engaged. While easy to read, it does not talk down to its audience, packing depth and emotion. You will find a good balance of dialogue and narration, and a slight learning curve with book-specific vocabulary, but ample context in most cases to deduct the meaning behind key terms.

Overall, it is full of cinematic scenes carried by an adventurous protagonist and spunky first person perspective chockablock with subtle humor. The voice is a bit more sophisticated than Harry Potter – which is to say, I’m not used to YA having a maturer feel, but I think it still works within the category. There is a keen interest in relationships, with surprising cliffhangers to keep you eager for the next chapter.

Review of The Complete Multiple Warheads by Brandon Graham

It’s a shame that such magnificent artwork is undermined by amateurish writing.

The layouts and designs are reminiscent of Moebius, while the dialogue and plot are barely readable pulp, pun-infested nonsense. Plenty of good ideas, creatures, gadgets, and character potential beneath the immaturity, but it’s well-lathered with cringe-worthy speech bubbles. It is worth picking up to gawk at the artwork, but don’t expect depth.

Review of House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

A dense mosaic of mesmerizing notions injected with a jumbo-sized hypo of s-f crack, rich with subtle corollaries of theory and conjecture. Huge, labyrinthine, wild. 

My first Reynolds. Now I have that combination of elation and despair, knowing that I’m in it for the long haul. I have to read all of his books. There’s no way around it. Only, what the hell? 10,000 pages to go…

Standing on the shoulders of such giants as Asimov, Clarke, Niven, and basically everyone, Reynolds paints a massive mural across the stars, encompassing every sciencey idea under multiple suns.

The scale of the timeline is gross, morbidly obese, and grotesquely complex, adding layers of incomprehensibility to the nefarious plot. But telling any tale over the course of millions of years is bound to generate more questions than answers. I admire the gumption, the gall.

Maybe you s-f geniuses out there could help me catch up to the hundred essential concepts I probably missed. Why is a star-dam so dangerous, if unlocked? We are dealing with space-faring legions. How is anything a threat when you have all that space to escape into? Let’s say they point the dam at you (How would they, anyway?) – can’t you just move out of the way? It’s light-minutes away, so wouldn’t the intensity dissipate over the distance?

Honestly, I don’t feel like reading tons of reviews and summaries to try and fill in the gaps. I am content to let the mysteries evaporate within the supermassive cloud of ideas left over in my mind. My consciousness felt like a machine person’s after reaching the finale, that is, uncontained within my skull, transitorily disparate within my corporeal system.

Apart from analyzing the wacky concepts to be found on every page (in every freaking paragraph), there is a lot of swagger to this impressive novel. Enough adventure and intrigue to plunge you into a cold sweat for hours of adrenaline-filled reading panic-cum-ecstasy.

Utilizing dreamy flashbacks, and story-telling through conversations which sometimes take years within the relative timescape of the narrative, Reynoldissimo weaves ring worlds, Dyson swarms, and wormholes dropped into massive stars to fuel intricate meta-civilizations, with lots of clone shenanigans, some let’s-not-call-it-incest-because-we’re-clones, and even a few genuine-ish relationships. Shatterlings (clones) manage to make the most of their ridiculously long lifespans, charting courses across galaxies, interacting with sentient cosmic nonentities, reporting on the fall of vast empires, and centaurs (why centaurs?).

My pupils were time-dilated frequently. More than any other book I’ve read, with the possible exception of Cixin Liu’s Death’s End, this one exhibits the propensity to explore the physical and mental event horizon of the science fiction genre, making the quantum leap into speculative literature of the highest order.

Light on the character development, with occasional Hollywoodized dialogue, Reynolds still blows Lem, Heinlein, and Niven out of the water. He carves out a continent of potentialities for his own territory, plants his flag firmly into the firmament of s-f gods, picking and choosing from the vast trove of futuristic archives of amazing stuff we have discovered as a species (or thought about too much) to condense the juicy bits into a gormandizing cornucopia of freakish proportions. Quite a trip.

Review of The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe

I enjoy a good fantastical forest novel as much as the next guy.

Gene Wolfe’s dependably polished writing delivers thrills and chills in this relatively early work. Set alongside Fifth Head of Cerberus, and Peace, The Devil in a Forest reads almost like children’s literature. That is not to say that it is not well-conceived and substantial. However, it is pretty straightforward in its plot and characters. It conveys many traditional storytelling devices through effective dialogue and complex motivations, and is reminiscent of Robin Hood. (Just don’t go walking into a forest alone if you live in Dark Ages Europe).

Truth is an elusive specter in this murder-filled adventure. The perspective is skewed by narrative distance and enhanced by precise description. Historically accurate weapons and surgery places these events some time in the remote past, more pagan than Christian. This is a time for alchemy and witches to hold sway over superstitious townsfolk. Wolfe peppers the dialogue with subtle variance – not a real language barrier by any means, but just enough archaism to flavor and flesh-out the characters.

For a pulp s-f, pseudo-obscure adventure tale the prose is too heady. For canon Gene Wolfe readers, this is definitely a minor work, reading more like the aborigine section of Fifth Head of Cerberus than otherwise. I was nonetheless intrigued and enthused by the quick pace, the mysterious atmosphere and the careful world-building. I become a bigger Wolfe fan with every foray into his oeuvre , but this is not the place to start if you are new.

The Barrow Man and lady Cloot were enjoyable versions of medieval legends/ folktale elements. Without them, this book would have bordered on pedestrian. It needed an infusion of magical realism, to undercut the vicious backwoods mentality of its characters. Make it a point not to miss this delightful novel.

Review of Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Listened to this whole audiobook on an all-day bike ride. I loved sinking in to the uber-omniscient narration so much that I repeated the experience with his similar book, Starmaker, on a similarly exhausting fifty-mile ride. 

This novel is a survey of 1930s European society extrapolated and speculated upon until we arrive at two billion years in the future. It exemplifies the spirit of discovery in this genre and is one of the most compelling thought experiments in book form I have encountered. Forget plot, character, dialogue and action. This reads more like a textbook. It was massively influential, but is often execrated in the modern age for its flaws, which were a product of its time. I do not believe the politics of the time should enter into the discussion of the merits of this book. Our current literature suffers from the same topical pratfalls. Ironically, this book handles time as a narrative device, humanity morphs and transforms, changes environments, adapts, and struggles through adverse conditions. Navigating fate is what life is all about. It is actually a survival trait to adapt to the current climate, though we earn a certain amount of pleasure and esteem from being contrarian. – This contrarianism is often the root of invention. We are all products of our time. But we are also products of what came before. We learn to survive and thrive by proxy, by regarding the disasters of the past and swerving to avoid our own weaknesses and doom. This is both a hopeful and a beautifully imagined account of human ingenuity. It almost begs the question if our minds are capable of a variety of foresight. Technically, we can imagine a true future. We can predict certain things. The question is whether or not we will use this ability to help or destroy ourselves.

Review of It Takes Death to Reach a Star by Stu Jones

I received an advanced review copy of the book without knowing anything about the authors beforehand.

Immediately, I was not sure about the title. “It Takes Death to Reach a Star” brings to mind a corny line from a sci-fi movie, something a character says right as they press the button to enter hyperspace.
A few things you should know before reading this book, and I do think you should read it:
The chapters are very short. It is a relatively quick read due to the unrelenting pace and short sentences. It is told in the present tense, which makes it feel very contemporary, but may grate on some fans of “traditional” narration. The first person perspective has shifting narrators, indicated (thankfully) by the character’s name at the beginning of each brief chapter. There is heavy use of made-up terms, right off the bat, at a frequency of several per page, which takes some getting used to.
The dialogue is clipped, punchy, like if Elmore Leonard wrote a post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure. Lots of death in this thrilling fantasy world, and plenty of methodical world-building. The scenery is well-described, all in an off-world setting that leaves enough to the imagination not to feel forced. That is, the narration never slows down. The method of the rapid internal monologues, full of personality and pizazz, make for a steep learning curve but an interactive reading experience. It feels very vivid, and though the character banter can be a little abstruse, it never goes on for too long. There are always things happening, plots unfolding, and these writers are not the type to hold your hand along the way. Rather, the co-authors fling you headfirst into a new universe, part William Gibson, part Ann Leckie.
It is definitely worth the short amount of time it will take you to finish it, to bravely immerse yourself in the effective, technological drama of this novel.

Review of Cryovacked (The Galactic Culinary Society, #3) by D.R. Schoel

In the tradition of Golden Age Science fiction, D. R. Schoel provides another episode from The Galactic Culinary Society.

At times I think of Red Dwarf, Dr. Who and other light entertainments while reading this author’s stories, though they definitely have smarts. At bottom, this is another easily digestible smorgasbord of gustatory delights, all sufficiently exotic, celestial, and creative to satisfy my appetite for futuristic adventure with an eye toward dietary appreciation. Don’t get caught up in the gimmick; there is a real story and a lovable protagonist, as you will find in the other installments. Each stands alone as a self-contained tale and manages to juggle innovative ideas with gentle humor and quirky situations.

A captivating trip with a savory twist – roping in a cooking method to place our protagonist in peril, adds a bit of clever escapism, but I look forward to the memorable imagery and quick-paced plots the author provides. This is a fun two-hour read and an excellent value for your Kindle library – with a bonus story to boot.

I am still trying to pronounce Xstersi.

I’ve always been slightly suspicious of sourdough starters. Watching yeast bloom is typically an unsettling endeavor. But I never expected the second story to turn this subliminal uncertainty into a crackerjack tale.

Looking forward to what the author brings out next.

Review of The Maze of Transparencies by Karen An-hwei Lee

A work of genius and unfathomable eccentricity.

In a post-societal literal data migration to physical clouds an obsessively cataloguing vehemently organic gardener pontificates on his dysthymia in a voice infused with shades of contemporary zeitgeists through which the reader perceives a softly dystopian alternate reality where rampant “affluenza” afflicts the phantasmal remnants of a happiness-worshipping, technologically dependent, corporately desensitized indistinguishable mass of human consciousnesses embroiled in a perpetual feedback loop of remedy cultivation and symptom diagnosis. A riptide of subtext illuminates the inspired ramblings of a disembodied protagonist.
Lee appropriates techno-babble and marketing lingo to weave a kaleidoscopic prose poem 180 pages in length. An elegant ménage à trois of Eastern philosophy, Western excess, and futuristic speculation.
The only comparable book in existence is perhaps Rikki Ducornet’s recent Trafik.

After the “great leap sideways” the soul of humanity is dislocated and pursued. Yang is a grass roots mystic in choose-your-own doom era.

Never have I read such a wily and mesmeric chronicle, percolating with disturbing subliminal undertones of human spiritual heat death.

Review of Traveller – Inceptio by Rob Shackleford

In accidental time travel books you usually have to put up with a lot of antics, but this one is more about exploring two worlds throughout history – the ancient and the modern, contrasting their ways of life.

The life of scientific research is bolstered by detailed scenes and precise narration, grounding us in a relatable scenario.

Add to this atmospheric descriptions of far-flung characters’ travails, and I was more than a little intrigued.
The set up allows the reader to ponder the potential for traveling through time, and how it changes the perspective of the busy, often distracted modern consciousness.

While the storytelling is controlled and the authorial voice is subdued, it easily gets its point across and captures the majesty of its setting. Not only that, it possesses the intellectual depth I’m looking for in a piece of fiction. Primarily, it is a dramatic interweaving of ideas.

A requirement I have while reading time travel stories is that I must learn something about history along the way, or receive a poignant satire of history. The Saxon England encountered here taught me plenty. It managed to be entertaining at the same time.

In the beginning, we are presented with mysteries, and with a little patience will are rewarded with answers. It contains effective action and an engaging plot. The moment by moment experience offers a well-written alternative to a lot of similar books out there. Though I’ve seen the concept done before, I’ve never seen it done exactly this way. It is a book best jumped onto like a ride. A true reading experience.

I always find scientific aspects of a story to be of minor importance, except when they’re done masterfully. The sciency moments here were not overwhelming or intrusive, but functional and lent a cinematic quality to the whole. Clearly, some research has gone into it, which is always a plus.
Characters with challenging decisions to make, and a small learning curve for the reader to adjust to in the shifts in narration at the start, all require active participation from the reader. All in all, Traveller Inceptio is still a very safe bet for your S-F fix.

Review of Did You Read The News? by Jack Merwin

The first thing you will notice about Did you Read the News is that it has an approachable learning curve.

The world building is delivered casually, by closely following the main character’s life. The beginning lulled me into a false sense of security since it was peaceful both in the relatable events it depicts and the method of its storytelling. It is well-paced, and possesses a soothing homogeneity. The escapist trappings begin to deepen after several chapters, once the reader learns more about the dystopian setting.

In terms of plot, structure, character, and literary aesthetics, I think a lot of genre literature hinges on engaging the reader’s awareness of the world building. This novel establishes a large scope and provides a deep look at a viable system, just similar enough to real-world situations that we can extrapolate and immerse ourselves into another world.

In my opinion the most compelling part of the book was this relatable world building and the character development. With cinematic aplomb, the author provides contrasting scenes which give the characters room to breathe and act. We follow Antuny, his family, friends, home, school, neighbors, yard work, hunting trips, his run ins and struggles. Many of his personal and intimate conflicts are given equal importance to the larger global problems looming on the horizon. Background information is filled in slowly, along with the budding romance between him and Krasna. The domestic backdrop gives way to a wider expanse of futurism, detailed through a shift in tone and explanation of interplanetary history of the Triumvirate.

Throughout the novel, the imagery remains consistently interesting, whether the narrator dwells on large set pieces or the minutia of every day life, it does effectively convey the texture and rhythm of this alternate world.

As an allegory about societal strife amid foreign conquerers, questionable leaders, pervasive propaganda, and consuming social interaction, I found that it triggered several intriguing lines of thought related to our modern age. The book will stick with you, if you stick with it and engage with the many levels of critique and entertainment it offers.

Review of Children of Time (Children of Time, #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I’m extremely picky when it comes to science fiction. The longer a book is, the more I begin to dissect the sentences, which too often contain extraneous syntax. 

This one is sprinkled with a sloppy dialogue tag and unnecessary gesticulations clutter the dialogue every once in a while. A few too many speech patterns described. I only need to be shown palp-flopping sign language a dozen times to get the point. Not likely to bother most people. Commercially successful S-f epics are not polished to the level of the usual hoity-toity stuff I read. Yet, I’m drawn to magnificent space operas, and this is certainly one.

Non-traditional in approach, it depicts alien life entirely different from our current society. Where’s the fun in a book describing aliens that resemble humans? If you’re going to have aliens, don’t make them Star Trek aliens. But the set-up was brilliant here. The spider colonies were fascinating. I was pulling for spider characters more than the human side characters.

Why are the gene-manipulators called nanoviruses? Aren’t viruses already beyond microscopic? Are these supposed to be even smaller than viruses? A better name would be smart viruses or something similar. Another nitpick.

The spider civilization, rendered with consummate skill, served to contrast the human situation well. Seems like a relatively realistic consequence of human foibles. Made me think of Terra Formars, the manga about cockroaches evolving past human capabilities on a fresh colony planet, and humanity’s race to combat them. The set up was similar, but the execution wildly dissimilar. Tchaikovsky isn’t as interested in battles, but in displaying the concert of forces at work in his cosmic creation.

Will I read more Adrian Tchaikovsky? I don’t know. Will he cut out the fluff and give us those solid ideas without distracting me every twenty seconds? My cringe muscles are sore after this one and it makes me feel like a heartless critic pointing out these minuscule cracks in a masterpiece.

Review of Survival: A Sci-Fi/Horror, where reality begins to bite. by Chris Wright

Guided along by smoothly flowing prose, the reader will perceive a consistent building tension in this genre-bending novel. 

Parts of it almost read like diary entries, and provide intimate details as well as high-level backstory description.
Full of subtle tension and propelled by the interactions of realistic characters in a sequence of atmospheric scenes, the dialogue is especially compelling, revealing the inner psychology of the players while creating a continual sense of movement.

Using a host of diverse characters and a shifting setting enhances the constant exploration of inner lives as much as it evolves the exterior mysteries. The psychological ramifications of our protagonist are elaborately exposed, dissected, and revealed throughout the fast-paced plot.

Many of the characters pursue specialized sciences, and the large interrelated cast members do not fall into simple categories. While the plot took a little while to get started, the author does a good job of building and developing his characters. Through riveting action scenes we are treated to their turn by turn recounting of the traumas and fallout involved in the horrifying experiences in the woods, as the mystery of the encounter suffuses the storytelling on every layer.

Paranoia, the skewed perspective of desperate characters, the nature of reality are all accounted for. Suspenseful ambiguities, thrilling action and an interplay of dependable speculative tropes make for a delightful reading experience. A highly twisty plot, with unexpected reveals and a persistent dread will surprise the reader.

Review of The Secrets of Umami (The Galactic Culinary Society #1) by D.R. Schoel

Following the protagonist, Jeanne, in her perilous descent into an off-world volcano to recover a delicious confection and gain the experience/ clout amid the Galactic Culinary Society, purveyors of synesthetic wonders, was a blast. 

Well-described locales and well-paced exploration. Cheeky, digestible, and sciency. I was quite impressed by the old-fashioned cover art and retro charm of the tale. High recommended for all s-f aficionados. Light-hearted and futuristic – perfect for an escapist jaunt through imaginative adventures.

Review of Song of the Golden Brew (The Galactic Culinary Society #2) by D.R. Schoel

In the second segment of the Galactic Culinary Society series, you will find more atmospheric description and additional otherworldly settings. 

You will notice a relaxed pacing, punctuated with action, but never threatening to overwhelm the reader’s sense of awe at the universe inhabited by the protagonist. It is a setup ripe with sequel potential: catching ingredients from exotic locales.

Combining lighthearted humor with a solid sense of discovery, the gourmet hunters here are more realistic than those in the tradition of Toriko. A survivalist tension pervades the ambiance, propelled by amusing dialogue and dependable world building. The strange creatures it presents do not often phase or impress our well-traveled main character. With old-fashioned sensibility we are introduced to the fictional universe through the lens of gustatory marvels. This is the science fiction of new frontiers we might remember from the Golden Age, reminiscent of Fritz Leiber. The author takes time to establish new aspects of their creation, including interplanetary commerce and social strictures, making for a treat for readers with a refined palette.

The gastronomic delights on offer do not disappoint – don’t human lives already center around food? This is merely a playful extension of our mortal tendencies, infused with mystery and wonder, an approachable, compulsively readable, and memorable trip. Well-written, fraught with danger, guided by a resourceful heroine, doling out cinematic encounters, the author engages familiar science fiction tropes in a fresh way, through the reliable method of visual storytelling and employing colorful side characters which make for a seductive literary confection.

Review of Fragments – A Sci-Fi/Horror: The sequel to Survival: The rules of reality have now changed by Chris Wright

In this second installment in the series, the pace ratchets up quickly. 

We join characters familiar from the first book (but I think this book can even be appreciated on its own, without some of the backstory). It is a good example of descriptions of cosmic proportions, and how paranormal events infringe on the lives of relatable characters. Each of them is part of a set of rich, well-rounded individuals, whom the author established through reliably good dialogue. They are pursued by supernatural vortices, giving the reader a very cinematic view of large-scale urban destruction.

The disintegration, the threat of annihilation, serves as a backdrop to human drama, all of which sustains a high pulse throughout the book. A dark fate for mankind lies in wait at the edge of our perception, as in the best science fiction, shedding light on our inner flaws.

This is a nanobot apocalyptic vision of the future, with an action-film tempo, radiating a white heat that will have you sweating over the pages. The persistence of haunting dreams plagues our protagonists. Our imaginations are powerful tools and our sentience can often be taken for prophesy. We rely on other human beings for validation of our worldview, but we are fundamentally self-serving. This give and takes adds even more tension to an already tense reading experience.

By alternating perspectives, the author gives a feel for a variety of well-crafted, believable characters. He delights in describing intricate set pieces, utilizing sweeping grand symphonies of molten metal and tidal waves of melting cars to set the stage, creating a constant scrambling toward purchase in a shifting landscape of demolishment, balanced upon a precipice of fear. A page-turner in the most primal sense, something to keep you up at night with its suggestions of immanent collapse of our unstable universe. – How reality may very well be a facade, a thin curtain dangling between the world we know and an untenable void. That is the cosmic horror immediately visible in this fictional version of our world. We are caught up in a pursuit against uncontrollable forces, a hive of our worst fears, a predator beyond imagining. Following interdimensional twists, with unexpected consequences, the telepathic link between an entity which challenges our perceptions intrudes upon the fate of the Everyman of the story, adding layers of techie futurism.

The book operates with logic and sciency, savvy depictions of disturbing realities fraught with a nonstop mingling of dreamlike imagery. It is a frantic tunneling through cause and effect, searching for answers amid the havoc of chaos, complicated by our own messy existences. It weaves in quantum theories, artificial intelligence, and many other concepts to craft a complex work of speculative fiction that comments on our troubled times.

Review of The Race by Nina Allan

Familiar territory for Nina Allan. Another book dealing with a kidnapping, or missing woman.

This one had a stronger feminist slant than The Rift, and I felt that the male characters were too two-dimensional, even by the standards of that agenda. The first segment of the book, dealing heavily with the enhanced dog races, was the most interesting to me. The other several sections dealt with troubled characters whose lives intersected tangentially, while touching on world building elements. It was all very subtle and lacking in plot after 200 pages or so. The depth of character development was only middling in my opinion, rarely progressing past a few dalliances with bisexuality and racial themes, family, friendship, rape, and incest – all motifs explored by Allan elsewhere and with more poignancy. Overall, the elements worked well, but I tired of the same bitter tone dispensed throughout, the darkness layered on thick, the slightly jaded and irresponsible attitudes of the characters’ viewpoints. The writing was not polished – I constantly noticed extra words – but I think she deliberately tweaked the narration to give it voice. There is a great deal of voice, many Britishisms, but not much concision. It is a laid-back telling of a gruesome series of events, involving despicable male characters in a pseudo-futuristic setting. The backdrop provides ample atmosphere, but by the time I got to the Maree section, the reiteration of the empathic powers, roping in the dog races, the backstories, the whales, and the other empaths, I got annoyed by the whole concept. Empathy, I get it.

Still recommended for fans of soft s-f. For some reason, the blurbs call it hard s-f. There’s not enough science to call it that. It’s again about relationships, though The Rift is a better place to start.

Review of Fluffy’s Revolution by Ted Myers

Blade Runner X Homeward Bound.

This was top-tier dystopian science fiction. The stakes are high in this wryly humorous anthropomorphic adventure. In its future world like Poul Anderson’s Brainwave, with a touch of Orwell’s Animal Farm mixed in, I was intrigued and won over by the charming and witty characters, the over-the-top plot, and the eccentric world building. There were multiple surprises in every chapter, and the book rarely slows down to let you think too hard about plausibility. The writing is slick and moves at a breakneck pace, through an engaging pseudo-technical cinematic crescendo, and left me eager for more. I’m onboard for the sequel Mr. Myers.

I had no problems with this book and would read it again. Recommended for all ages. A few classic movie references thrown in were a bonus.

Review of Reality Testing (Sundown, #1) by Grant Price

Reality Testing is a colorful novel, generously long, pumped full of so much creativity that the experience of reading it can only be compared to an overdose of science-fiction brand narcotics. 

Blending a complex web of illusion and reality, with prose that is so tight, sleek, polished, and chromium-plated, it can only belong to a talented writer, giving voice to his vision within the peculiar demands of the cyberpunk realm.

I believe the stylings to be the essence of the book. You will notice the dense imagery right off the bat, with its grungy city atmosphere, and lightning-paced, adrenaline-fueled thriller tones, Reality Testing is a true test of fictional constraints. Getting used to the world-building and futuristic jargon can make for a bit of a learning curve, much like in the work of William Gibson, but the words begin to slot into place over time, filling in the blanks in a vast mosaic of author-trademarked background props. The Blade Runner grit and layering of imprints, tech conglomerates, slum dross, high concept drugs, mods, etc. provide profuse atmospheric accoutrements, along with the constant pleasure of discovery, as you navigate the break-neck plot.

The vicious society it depicts, the gritty landscape, flooded with sleazy grime, slime, and dense urban decay, is crowded with seething, plastic-drenched corporations, speedy, neurotic enclosures – conjuring a metropolis which is at once a melange of cultures, influences, languages, product placement, glitz, gliders, and well-sustained tension. Also sustained is the continuous action, like the non-stop gallop of a manufactured dream. Billowing beneath this construct are the dog-eat-dog politics, made-to-order for the chase through streets so teeming with commerce and potential as to embody a circuitboard of virtual lives. The hive-minded individuals hock their wares and enact the subtle subterfuge of a race lobotomized by its own innovations.

Our vibrant main character, via neural instructions, seeks to escape the microcosmic entanglement of her situation, but in a life oozing with so many engineered conveniences and rife with technical splendor, is there any hope but for a replacement peace, a static chaos? like a bridge of dead ants across a stream, sustaining a new army upon the carcasses of the fallen – such is history, our bridge. Luckily, Grant Price balances lengthy descriptions of immense imaginative power with bracing dialogue, cheeky narration and good storytelling. Every page makes consistent use of localized fictional bytes which add up to a convincing fictional software, to be downloaded directly into our collective unconscious. True science fiction establishes the sources of its fantastical elements, explains the unbelievable and renders it uncannily believable. The synthetic lives and overstimulated existence present here illustrate that principle magnificently. I do not think it is possible to rewrite cyberpunk with a more authentic display.

Review of We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse, #1) by Dennis E. Taylor

It didn’t live up to the hype. For me at least.

Many other people will enjoy this. Every time I was introduced to an interesting, high-brow scientific concept, I was cringing at the corny humor. The main issue is Bob, the narrator/ commentator, giving a peanut gallery run down of events, which are all about himself, in different forms, conquering the galaxy. It would be fine if he didn’t treat the audience like kids, encouraged by a subliminal laugh track.

Starts out pretty geeky: main character going to a convention. Sets up some foreboding points of reference. Then we are treated to a big chunk of time post-mortem, Bob hasn’t really changed, except in his calculating power. You can hear a ‘Wa Wa Waaaaa’ after every one of his snide remarks. The action scenes felt planned throughout the book, and we get our first taste of this in the facility where he is trained for his mission to operate a Von Neumann probe. Much of what happens in the book displays the main character’s astounding luck. However, there are several instances later of his resourcefulness, so the balance is there, if not a little skewed in his favor. There is an instinctual drive to his actions, which made up for some of the Deus Ex Machina.

The anti-religious sentiment was laid on thick.  Spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph: I would have preferred a less heavy-handed method, since it doesn’t come from our narrator’s beliefs but from the world building. The world is theocratic. Bob’s commentary and reaction are understandable upon waking up in such a world. Yet this doesn’t appear to fit in with the modern trend of society, as in, I don’t see this development as realistic. It’s blatant and quite ‘out there’ in its depiction. I got the feeling that the author didn’t try to understand the religious mentality which would champion such a system. He is rallying for the triumph of science and the extinction of limiting world views. Some of Bob’s actions later label him as another ruthless human being, ruled by survivalism. The hypocrisy is the main driving force of the plot, but it came off as forced, very basic, and grandiose. I suppose it was better than the typical WW III scenario or simple climate change wiping out humanity. I’m split on whether it was compelling or trite. In any case, it felt childish in a way.

Once Bob is finally free to create change in his environment, there are plenty of clever applications of future technology to keep any science fiction fan going. The book has a lot of value, in my opinion, as an extension of the genre’s tropes. The main issue is the main character and that pesky need to make everything into a joke. The cultural references rival Ready Player One. You get Star Trek, Wars, Simpsons, and so on. You don’t have to watch out for them. They’re unmissable. Bob actually rolls his eyes at his own joke more than once. I grow very aggravated by such antics.

Of course other planets are routed out, utilized. There are remnant factions, and a dwindling hope for humanity. Bob becomes the hero through his goofy perseverance and split-second decisions. The investigation of Deltan evolution grew tedious. It was like watching the History Channel for a few hours. Relevant, but you wish they’d simply boiled it all down, gotten to the point faster. What I mean to say is, the book really takes its time. It’s a leisurely ride. This is probably a sign of its widespread appeal. The humor offsets the bleakness. With its flawed everyman character, many people will relate.

Here are a few more sticking points. Bob seems asexual. There was that stuff about his girlfriend in the beginning, but it was glossed over. He becomes detached from meaningful relationships as an AI. I would have loved to see some exploration of male psyche like you get in the film Her. He doesn’t seem to want female companionship, even within the infinite reaches of space and time, instead settling for a holographic butler ripped from pop culture and a pet named Spike. The naming is pretty lame as well. It is clear the author has a knack for many of the demands of science fiction writing. But a more honed sense of maturity, ambition, and pragmatism would have served the book well. In the end, it is a diverting, unique, watered down work of speculative adventure, executed with a wide-brush for the sake of entertainment. Possibly on the level of Hitchhiker’s Guide, which I also had problems with.

new flash fiction

Check out our flash fiction in Havok on June 12th, 2019 and vote for it!

June 12, 2019

4th Quarterly Review 2017

My short story “Cygnus” was featured in the 4th Quarterly Review of Bewildering Stories for 2017.

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3rd Quarterly Review

My story, “Eve in the Belly of the Whale” was included in the 2017 3rd Quarterly Review of Bewildering Stories. Check it out:

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