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.

Click Here

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:

Click Here