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Tress of the Emerald Sea

Novel by Brandon Sanderson

©2023 Tor Books

Reviewed by Philip Kendall

Tress of the Emerald Sea wasn’t written to be published but rather for fun. Unlike many of Brandon Sanderson’s other works, which are carefully crafted edifices with interlocking layers of theme and plot, this novel thrives on whimsy.

 

The heroine, Tress, is a normal, unadventurous girl, the kind who usually ends up as a side character or not included at all. She would have happily remained on her island in the midst of the titular Emerald Sea had her friend and true love Charlie not been kidnapped by the Sorceress of the Midnight Sea. Reluctantly, Tress sets out to rescue him, her voyage complicated by the fact that residents of her island are forbidden to leave. The sea is also full of pirates. It is also made of spores.

 

The best part of the whole book was how Tress changed over the course of it. Sanderson could have made this another tale of transformation from meek and mild wallflower to strong, confident warrior. Instead, although Tress does grow in confidence, her essential qualities of kindness and compassion never change. While she does pick up a weapon at one point, she is wildly outmatched and quickly defeated, a more realistic outcome than some transformation into a superpowered killing machine. It’s also more satisfying. Tress’ adventures nurture the qualities she had from the start rather than artificially tacking on new ones. It’s fun to watch her wield the tools she always had with ever more skill and panache until she faces down the Sorceress in her tower to demand that Charlie be liberated.

 

The heroine is not the only delightful character. One of Brandon Sanderson’s talents is his ability to humanize his most inhuman characters, such as a large, malevolent dragon and a talking rat. More impressive is Sanderson’s ability to humanize his inhumane characters without compromising their villainy. The Sorceress, for example, is motivated by ordinary desires: general selfishness, mischievousness, and the desire to be someone significant. In pursuit of those goals, however, she casually ruins the lives of a large number of the other characters, including Tress herself. The pirate Captain Crow is desperately looking for the cure to an incurable disease, a motivation that makes her human. Her willingness to kill anyone between her and her goal makes her a villain. Both characters could be protagonists in their own tragic stories. They are not devoted to some abstract idea of pure evil but are simply callous and selfish—qualities that are easy to despise in others but all too frequently found in ourselves.

If Tress of the Emerald Sea has a downside, it might be that it tries too hard to be whimsical. For the most part, it is funny, but occasional lines feel forced. The antics of the pirate cabin boy especially start to become hollow, and since he is the narrator, this extends to narration as well. However, the repetitiveness of the prose is easily overshadowed by multifaceted characters and riveting plot. Although Brandon Sanderson reuses his phrases and themes, he reuses them with skill and panache few contemporary authors can emulate.

If you like fantasy, humor and talking rats, this book is for you. If you like classic, Campbellian adventure stories with a twist, this book is for you. If you like strong female characters, this book is for you. Most of all, if you believe in the inherent worth of every human being—even the callous, selfish ones—this book is for you. More than any of Brandon Sanderson’s other books, Tress of the Emerald Sea captures the heart of what we mean when we talk about the value of a human life. It is, in essence, a love letter to people like Tress, people whose first thought is not for themselves but for the welfare of those around them.

All the Fiends of Hell

Novel by Adam Nevill

©2024 Ritual Limited

Reviewed by Michael Wertenberg


 

 

When gravity ceases to tether us to the Earth and we all drop into the sky; when aliens arrive unannounced with a single objective: extermination: these are the fears an impressionable Adam Nevill contemplated as a child, fears fueled by staring, bewildered, at the endless blue above, fears then further stoked by reading and re-reading H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

 

After success with novels such as Last Days and The Reddening, movie adaptations of The Ritual and No One Gets Out Alive, and winning the prestigious August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel a record four times, Adam Nevill felt it was time he revisited his childhood fears; it was time he explored his own version of “annihilation on a biblical scale.” The result of this exploration is All the Fiends of Hell

 

Though somewhat reminiscent of Lost Girl in its apocalyptic landscape and the kinetic pursuit the protagonist embarks on, Adam Nevill’s new novel extends the reach of his talents to a sub-genre previously unexplored in his catalog. But thanks to the distinctive, recognizable voice, it still reads very much like an Adam Nevill horror: a book for confirmed horror fans; horror tourists are forewarned.

 

Karl is an everyday man with no particular skills, no particular ambition. His marriage fell apart; his career was on the brink of falling apart. Yet all that was yesterday, when the world still made sense. Karl is one of the few survivors of “The Night of Bells,” the night when chimes cued the departure of humankind as men, women, and children fell into the sky. The few remaining must now contend with the clean-up crew: “the horrors,” insubstantial avian-like wisps that ride the reddening sky in search of survivors. Those they find are ripped apart, their mangled limbs strewn in the trees or piled onto pyres. A grotesque architecture of discarded flesh and bone speckles the landscape as Karl makes his way south to the coast. The sky is not yet red above the sea. Karl’s desperate aim is to find a boat and sail away to where the horrors will not follow.

 

As Karl loots the stores for food, supplies, and clues as to what his world has become, he comes across six-year-old Hayley and her brother, twelve-year-old Jake. They are orphans. Not his responsibility. He knows nothing about children. He doesn’t know how to take care of them. Hell, he can barely take care of himself. Yet he knows, despite there being little chance of survival, that if he leaves them, those two orphans stand no chance at all.

 

Karl is now a surrogate father, an ill-prepared guardian on the run from invaders from another world. There is no justice or merit as to who was extinguished during The Night of Bells and who was spared. Karl feels unworthy to be counted among those fortunate enough—if that’s the right term—to have survived; he will meet far worse, far “less deserving” in his flight. What comes shrieking out of the reddening sky is inhuman; the selfishness and savagery Karl will encounter among the survivors is even less so.  

 

There are moments of tenderness: the farmer who refuses to leave his land despite impending death; the sick patient who dons a nurse’s outfit and assumes a thankless role against impossible odds; the sailor who has been betrayed before yet still harbors enough hope in humankind to risk being betrayed again. Tenderness and trust are part of humanity. Yet Adam Nevill does not shy away from showing the darker side as well, the one unmasked by lawlessness and self-preservation.

 

In All the Fiends of Hell, Adam Nevill creates a relatable protagonist who must flee brutality while being forced into himself. He will have to take actions that only days before would have seemed unimaginable.  

 

The pace of the 280-page novel is deliberate with little attention paid to backstory, preferring instead the here and now. The story stays focused on its main characters and is never bogged down with conjecture or theories about the extinction-level event.

 

The invading threat at the core of All the Fiends of Hell is unknowable. Where are they from? How did they get here? What do they want? The imagination is teased and stirred. Yet the novel doesn’t placate the reader with fast and easy answers. This inability to reconcile observation with knowledge only heightens the horror. As the threat is beyond our intellectual grasp, any arms we could conceive against it would be futile; any reason or motive we could ascribe would be pointless conjecture. Our faculties allow for the formulation of but one sound directive: run—as long and as far as we can.

 

And should any shred of humanity remain, we will know it by its plain, yet profound, expression: hope and solidarity.


Territory

Novel by Dan Howarth

©2022 Northern Republic

Reviewed by Jasmine Arch

Before I say anything else, I’m going to tell you this book comes with a content warning. There’s a fine line between content warnings and spoilers, so I don’t want to say too much. But if you’re the type of person that checks doesthedogdie.com, Territory by Dan Howarth isn’t for you. Sorry. With that out of the way, let’s get into this book.

 

Jari, an experienced hunter living in an isolated Finnish hunting community, feels responsible for the wellbeing of his friends and neighbors. When their safety comes under threat, he tries to protect them to the best of his ability despite his own struggles with overwhelming loss and grief.

 

When I started reading, I expected one of those man-against-nature stories that demonstrates to us humans how wrong we are to think we can control nature. Heh.

 

There’s a lot to enjoy about this story, including the sort of characters readers might love to hate—certainly the sort we’d gossip about, given half the chance. There’s more to them than meets the eye, hints of a history and background you can’t help wondering about.

 

As for protagonist Jari, the choices he faces are never black and white, and I couldn’t help wondering what I’d do in his place.

 

This book was originally published in 2022 and released as an audiobook in June 2023. I received a review copy upon the audio release, and I have to say narrator Justin Fife does a great job bringing Jari to life. He maintains a balance between immersion and storytelling and makes each character’s dialogue distinct without pulling attention away from the story. 

 

Despite the fact that Dan Howarth’s still on my naughty list (I too, often check doesthedogdie.com), he did an amazing job. The prose pulls you right into the story with a sparseness that fits the setting and the atmosphere perfectly.

 

I was left with many thoughts and feelings I needed to process, so I gave myself a day and then listened a second time, though honesty compels me to admit I skipped the chapter I shall not name. It’s not one of those stories that spoils once you’re past the discovery stage, leaning heavily on plot twists and a shocking reveal. Instead, I found myself hunting up little hints and pointers I’d missed my first time round and contemplating Jari and the decisions he faces.

 

Would I recommend Territory? Yes, provided you can make it past the content warning. It’s well written, and the audio quality is spot on. Howarth, aided by Justin Fife in the audiobook, pulls you into the bleakness of Finnish winter, transporting you into a community torn between fight, flight, or freeze as the nature of their predicament becomes clearer with each passing day.

 

Ratings, you say? Stars are so last year, aren’t they? I’ll give Territory seven out of eight hungry wolves.

Galaxias

Novel by Stephen Baxter ©2022 Gollancz

Reviewed by Peter Jekel

Galaxias begins at a breakneck pace with the scientific rigour characteristic of Stephen Baxter’s writing. The sun literally disappears from our skies, not in a solar eclipse but simply vanishing. The fallout from the loss, both its stabilizing gravitational pull and its life-giving heat, is profound and explained in great detail, which might sound a bit boring, but the facts and extrapolations are presented in a way that keeps the reader fully engaged. As quickly as it disappeared, the sun is restored 24 hours later. The phenomenon becomes known as the “Blink.” Someone or something has sent humankind a sign.

 

From such a mind-expanding beginning the reader might expect the tale to move into the realm of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama or 2001: A Space Odyssey. The author instead decides to put the brakes on, and the tale takes on a different tone. This is a surprise, since in many of his earlier works Baxter, like Clarke, takes a story to the “next level.” Instead of mystery and awe, Baxter explores an unexpected path: how the world confronts the aftermath of the catastrophe. Baxter contrasts the response of western cultures with the Chinese perspective. The juxtaposition is a highlight and delight of the novel.

 

During a plethora of meetings—they could have been reduced with no ill-effects to the final product—between various characters, the novel delves into fascinating facts and action, taking the reader to exotic locales such as the Kuiper Belt, the Moon and Mercury, another Baxter trademark.

 

These meetings advance the story because the characters aren’t cardboard bureaucrats but rather people the reader can empathize with. If you are a regular reader of Baxter, his characterization improves with each successive publication. He develops three-dimensional characters without losing focus on the awesome scope of the story.

 

During their interactions, the characters come up with a hypothesis. The “Blink,” they conjecture, was executed by an all-powerful entity, a galaxy-encompassing civilization of our Milky Way they dub Galaxias. The bizarre event is a warning to humanity to rein in any aspirations for the stars. Like the human characters of the story, Galaxias, hypothetical but entirely plausible, is fully realized as not only all-powerful but also very lonely despite “owning” such a vast piece of real estate.

 

Stephen Baxter, true heir to the grandiose concepts of Arthur C. Clarke and Olaf Stapleton, never fails to satisfy, especially if you are looking for scientific rigour. Galaxias is no exception.


Slains Castle’s Secret History: Warlords, Churchill, and Count Dracula

Nonfiction by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker ©2022 HellBound Books Publishing

Reviewed by Katherine Kerestman

Dacre Stoker is back at it, skulking around ancient ruins for insights into the mind of Bram Stoker, and by this means, into the mind of Dracula. With Mike Shepherd, Stoker has co-authored Slains Castle’s Secret History: Warlords, Churchill, and Count Dracula, taking us back through the history of  northeastern Scotland.

 

Mike Shepherd is a local historian and geologist who studies the volcanoes of the Port Erroll and Cruden Bay area, where Bram Stoker often spent his holidays. In the course of his investigations into Stoker's relationship with the land and people of Scotland, Shepherd came to realize how little literary and historical attention has been paid to this part of Stoker's life. He teamed up with Dacre Stoker to do an intense investigation into the Dracula author’s emotional bond with Scotland and its influence on his work.

 

Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker, is the torchbearer of the Dracula legacy. I met him at Stoker Con 2019, the convention of the Horror Writers Association, at which Dacre revealed the fruits of his extensive sleuthing into the life and writing of his forebear as well as the development, crafting, and continuing literary and cultural influences of the seminal novel Dracula. With Ian Holt, he wrote Dracula: The Undead (Harper Collins, 2009), a Dracula sequel, the afterword of which contains a valuable bibliographical study; and, with J. D. Barker, he co-authored Dracul (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018), a prequel to Dracula, which mixes the plot and characters of Dracula with biographical details of Bram Stoker’s life. Most recently, he and Elizabeth Miller edited The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker: The Dublin Years (Hellbound Books, 2021). In Slains Castle's Secret History, Dacre Stoker revisits the winding corridors of his ancestor’s genius, shedding light on Bram's Scottish experiences.

 

There were actually two Slains Castles. The first was a fourteenth-century edifice laid waste by Robert the Bruce during the Harrying of Buchan and eventually blown to smithereens at the behest of King James VI. In 1597 a new house was built close by, later expanded and also named Slains Castle. 

 

Slains Castle’s Secret History tells the story of this noble stronghold on the rocky, storm-tossed coast of Cruden Bay. The authors guide the reader through seven centuries of history—through Jacobite maneuvers and plots, French and Spanish plans to invade England through its Scottish back door, and visits by Dr. Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Winston Churchill, and Bram Stoker. The book also details the domestic history of the generations of people who lived in the house. Best of all, the writers take readers on a stroll following Bram Stoker’s footsteps along the beaches of Cruden Bay and through the nearby town of Whitby.

 

While I enjoy history for its own sake, it was “Count Dracula” in the title that drew me to this book. Bram Stoker made numerous visits to Port Erroll and Cruden Bay between 1892 and 1910. Wherever he traveled, Stoker collected local history and lore as well as contemporary dialect and manners, which inform much of his fiction. The authors of Slains Castle’s Secret History describe Stoker’s habit of conversing with the natives of Port Erroll and eagerly attending to their stories. Like Whitby, Port Erroll was a favored vacation destination for Stoker, from which he garnered many particulars incorporated into Dracula, The Watter’s Mou’, and other works: for instance, the jagged, teeth-like rocks of Cruden Bay, which devoured countless ships and sailors, appear in a number of his tales. While Whitby Harbor was transformed into the place Dracula came ashore in England in storm and fury and Whitby Cathedral would became the inspiration for Carfax Abbey, Slains Castle inspired Stoker with some of the architectural details of Castle Dracula. In the summer of 1895, at Port Erroll’s Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in the shadow of Slains Castle, Stoker began writing Dracula. Sadly, the house now stands in ruins, a hodgepodge of external walls, the victim of a demolition and salvage company.

 

This volume is an important part of Dracula history. Bram Stoker's sensitivity to the life histories of buildings and locations equipped him to endow the locations in his stories, especially Transylvania, Carfax Abbey, and Castle Dracula with almost-sentient personalities. Slains Castle was the locus not only of rich local culture but also of political intrigue spiced with stormy seas, a rocky coast, and a long list of shipwrecks. Its octagonal room is forever a conspicuous feature of the architecture of Castle Dracula.

 

Dacre Stoker hosts literary tours of Slains Castle as well as other locations vital in the formation of Bram Stoker and his novel, Dracula, including Whitby (the setting of the first part of Dracula), Ireland (Bram Stoker’s birthplace), and Transylvania (home of Vlad Dracul, the Impaler). Legions of Dracula fans and scholars are indebted to Bram Stoker's intrepid descendant for his tireless research into the beloved author and his work.

Foxhunt

Book By: Rem Wigmore ©2022 Anchor Books

Reviewed By J.D. Harlock


Small press publisher Queen of Swords has made a name for itself in recent years by putting out books in genres that have faded from the mainstream. From swashbucklers’ tales of derring-do to bold new adventures across time and space, Queen of Swords has you covered. Such publishers aren’t rare in the indie scene, but what separates QoS from the competition is unwavering commitment to quality in genres where it has traditionally been in short supply. That’s why it’s no surprise that their latest offering, the solarpunk/hopepunk swashbuckler Foxhunt by Rem Wigmore, delivered what I was looking for and then some.


Taking place in a far-flung future where plants have stripped most of the poison out of the air and humanity is recovering slowly from environmental calamity, the book follows Orfeus, a famed traveling singer who finds herself on the run from a vicious bounty hunter known only as the Wolf. That may not seem like a riveting premise, but what makes Wigmore’s novel worth the read is its setting and characters. With its anachronistic mix of tech, customs, mores, and cultures, you’re presented with a world that feels like it’s been through the ringer and is now trying to piece together its past while learning from its mistakes. Even when the novel moves from settings as disparate as a mechanical castle in the sky to a shining city whose architecture is intertwined with the nature that surrounds it, you never feel anything is out of place. It’s tricky to make these kinds of settings cohesive, but Wigmore walks that line masterfully.


What really sells this world is the characters. Every great setting needs great characters to bring it to life, and Foxhunt delivers. Wigmore weaves together an effortlessly charming cast that’s both unique and diverse in a way that never feels forced and never panders to the audience. The author takes the time to get us into their heads, and as you read, you know who these people are, what they want, and why they act the way they do. When they make drastic choices, you understand why. It doesn’t hurt that these are characters you’ll quickly grow fond of and love by the book’s end.


Not that the book is perfect. Where the story falters is in plotting and structure. This novel should’ve been longer, and I mean that as compliment as much as criticism. After the introductory scene, the story heads in directions you wouldn’t think of considering the premise, but it leaves quite a few plot threads hanging, only returning for hasty resolution at the end. Two main threads run through the book, the protagonist’s dealings in Eldergrove and her time with the Order of the Wild, and although they are tied together by the end, I feel there should have been a stronger connection between the arcs while also expanding on her time in each place (especially as she comes up in the latter organization).


These problems inadvertently telegraph the identity of one of the antagonists, who appears only once before being revealed much later as one of the orchestrators of Orfeus’ troubles. I quickly figured out who was to blame, but only because the book tries hard to convince us that various red herrings are culpable (while giving them hidden depths usually reserved for heroes), and there just weren’t that many candidates. This character has the makings of a great villain but is given so little time that we’re left wanting more depth, especially compared to the fleshed-out supporting cast


Still, if the only complaint I have of an author’s work is that I wanted more of it, that author is definitely doing something right.  

Project Hail Mary

Book By: Andy Weir ©2021 Ballantine

Reviewed By Peter Jekel

Then there are those like Andy Weir who somehow hit the market with a runaway bestseller on their first outing. The former electrical engineer wrote his first book, The Martian, in his spare time (he published a short story, “The Egg,” in 2009). The book not only succeeded in getting published but was a bestseller for nineteen weeks and was made into a successful movie with a big-name actor, Matt Damon, and an equally big-name director, Ridley Scott.

 

Weir followed his rookie outing with Artemis, a good book but hardly of the caliber that made The Martian a phenomenon. Weir has resurrected the essence of The Martian in Project Hail Mary, isolating his protagonist from other people to focus where his true talents lie, explaining scientific ideas with a sense of wonder and excitement rather than writing in the dry voice of a scientist in a science journal.

 

Much like Mark Watney in The Martian, the protagonist of Project Hail Mary initially finds himself alone. He wakes up in a spaceship hooked up to a medical robot/computer with no idea who he is or why he’s there. He eventually figures out he is a science teacher named Ryland Grace, the only survivor of a space mission to save Earth. He was chosen for the mission because of a paper he wrote theorizing that the reason the Sun was gradually fading was because it was infected by alien microbes. The article had initially forced him into a sort of academic exile, criticized by more conservative scientific minds.

 

His mission was to go the nearest uninfected star to figure out the star’s immunity. As his article predicted, he discovers Earth is being threatened because alien microbes, called astrophages, are draining energy not just from our life-giving Sun but from other stellar systems as well. Ironically, these very astrophages are the power source for Grace’s starship.

 

Weir veers away from the isolation of The Martian by introducing Grace not to a human character but to a truly alien one. He encounters an alien vessel at his destination. The alien isn’t a humanoid with horns or a bulbous nose or mottled skin but rather something unlike anything on Earth. It, too, is the only survivor of a similar mission sent out from its home world in the 40 Eridani stellar system.

 

Due to the alien’s stony outer shell anatomy, Grace nicknames it Rocky. This encounter between two diverse intelligent species is where the story shines. Weir takes his time with the relationship, which puts realism into it. The two learn to communicate (Rocky’s communication is very much like that of whales on the Earth) and work together to resolve the complex problem of the astrophages. Weir could have easily plugged an alien voice into a “universal translator” or had Rocky speak English, as we often see in television and movies, but that would have been the lazy way. Instead Weir builds on the communication shortcomings to develop a believable tale of two very different characters on a similar mission. In the process, we can put a human spin on the sequence of events; these two very different beings develop true friendship. 

 

Weir’s latest outing is a return to the formula that made him a stellar success when he started his writing career. Like The Martian, Project Hail Mary is an absolute delight to read.

Thistlefoot

Book By: GennaRose Nethercott ©2022 Anchor Books 

Reviewed By Irene Lyla Lee

GennaRose Nethercott’s novel Thistlefoot nods to the legacy of the American experience from the diverse ways immigrants arrive, survive, and live in this land. Although the book is fantasy, it veers between folktale and historical fiction. Nethercott, fascinated by mythology, links ancient Slavic folklore to the American mythologies of the bum, the devil, and the railroad. Thistlefoot is an immigration story about a Ukrainian family fleeing a pogrom, but it is only one of the many stories of people coming to what is now the United States.

Nethercott wraps her novel in the character of Baba Yaga, the fabled witch from Russian and Slavic folklore, layering it over the story of Bellatine and Isaac Yaga, estranged siblings of Jewish ancestry whose family escaped Ukraine during the pogroms of Tsarist Russia in the early 19th century. When they reunite after the arrival of their inheritance—a house on chicken legs—they begin to uncover their past and understand themselves on a deeper level. 

Their ancestor, Baba Yaga, is both cruel and kind, and those who encounter her never know which version they’ll get. She may be a version of the witch in Hansel and Gretel.  Her house is surrounded by burning skulls, presumably those of her victims, but she is known to offer help to wanderers, giving remedies and guidance to those who are lost. She seems to be part and parcel of the forest itself: her house appears from the trees without warning. Aside from traveling around on a mortar and pestle and having a house full of invisible hands, perhaps her most endearing quirk (if such can be said of a cannibalistic witch) is that her house has chicken legs. 

The descendants of a witch would be expected to have some magical capabilities. Bellatine has that of animation, and Isaac is a shapeshifter. Their bodies, like the body of the house, hold memories, and so Nethercott includes the voice of the house in the book, “But, little house, you say, what is a memory if not a ghost?” The tics of these characters, down through generations, begin with a single event: a pogrom. Nethercott draws from her own ancestry to structure this tale, turning Baba Yaga into a Jewish woman in a shtetl called Gedenkrovka in what is now Ukraine. The magic of the fairy tales about Baba Yaga are interwoven with Jewish mysticism. This personal connection turns the narratives into a dense, multi-layered smorgasbord.

The denseness of the narrative is offset, however, by language. Nethercott is also a poet, which gives the words and phrases a specific texture. Each sentence has been ripened. Even a stone smashing a window is more than one thing: “...the stone soared across the room in slow motion, a veil of crystalline splinters trailing behind. It was a foreign comet. A strange bride dripping a daggered lace train.”

Nevertheless the story moves like a locomotive. The villain is smoke, not a ghost necessarily, but a scent from another place and a time that has traveled hundreds of miles and has stayed for a hundred years. Nethercott rolls up her sleeves in the realm of storytelling, using a panoply of forms. Replete with layers of characters from various times, places, and modes, the novel operates in a magical realist present that unravels into fantasy. There are varying tones and voices throughout: the past narrated by the house itself, and a puppet show featuring a gangly fool always looking to tell a new joke, the story of a stone, and, finally, the stark, uncomplicated, terrible, ungodly truth. Sometimes the narrative approaches comic book levels of action, as the climax of the story becomes part magical historical fiction, part zombie story. As I was reading I sometimes wondered how so many stories can live in one narrative. 

There is an ongoing critical conversation about how literary fairytales intersect with the cultural soup that carries them. In other words, to whom do these stories belong, and why are they told? What is the purpose and function of their magic? That master magician of words Philip Pullman, who wrote a series of Grimms’ fairy tales in 2012, said in his introduction that he approaches these stories as if they are a practice, insisting “[t]he fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alternation.... A fairy tale is not a text.” Nethercott practices her right to retell these stories, to use them beyond the limits of their text. Using the narratives of her ancestry, Nethercott creates frameworks for how story can be used for understanding the past and to create a path to its truths. While the pogrom is the center of the story, Nethercott approaches the event as both truth and fairy tale, insisting that,“[e]vents, if they carry enough wailing, can leave a mark. Can squeeze themselves into terrible shapes, grow arms, legs, a head on which to wear a hat, feet on which to follow you.” 

Nethercott is now doing puppet shows telling select stories from the novel, using a small theater and a panorama of woodblock cuts and marionettes. 

Although it’s easy to love simplicity, the quaintness of a single tale told from beginning to end, and it’s nice to admire Hemingwayesque short sentences, This novel isn’t interested in clean or simple. Every story in it matters: every voice, every struggle to understand the truth is given its due. Nethercott may be a poet and a vaudevillian in temperament, but she’s a storyteller to her core. Perhaps this book is only echoes of past voices. Perhaps this novel is not in itself enough for the pages of a book. Perhaps no novel is.

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota 

Poetry and fiction collection Book By: Amelia Gorman 

Reviewed By  J.D. Harlock

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like Amelia Gorman’s Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota, and I’m not sure I ever will again. Touting itself “as a poetic journey into the strange and wonderful world known previously only to the wild,” it offers readers just that, but in a unique way that will draw in those who might not have taken to the concept but might alienate others expecting something more traditional. 


Within these meticulously written pages, you’re presented with an eclectic collection of poetry and fiction that leverages the aesthetics of an actual field guide (even including pencil-sketched illustrations) that posit a haunting future we’re repeatedly reminded could be right around the corner. The titular invasive species have mutated as a result of the climate crisis, and the monoculture they have created spells doom for the human race. You may think you know where this is going, but like the mutations in the book, humanity will go down a path unlike anything you’ve seen in speculative fiction before. That’s not to say that it’ll impress or even appeal to you, as I suspect plenty of readers will be left wanting more as a result of the rather terse descriptions provided.


Alternating between the dystopian and the esoteric, a vivid portrait of the near future is illustrated with a precision and polish that often impressed me but at times left me cold. The few characters are introduced in their respective pieces and never reappear. There’s no running plot thread either beside the core concept, making it difficult to invest oneself in the book. There was nothing to latch onto and anchor the experience, though I suspect that may appeal to some.


Alone some of these pieces might not be as effective as they are when they carefully build on each other, but by the end (and especially on a reread), you’ll see that they’re far more effective than you initially thought. Every piece, and specifically the ones that don’t stand as well on their own, slowly fill in the gaps of the ecological nightmare Gorman has concocted. Though the book remains faithful to its concept with each piece, there’s a variety to be found in how Gorman tackles each subject with some forms and structures yielding better results than others. 


One thing I loved (and wasn’t expecting) was how the book eased you into the science fiction aspect, but I feel like it ended at what would’ve been a solid midpoint, never reaching the full potential of its premise. The afterword was satisfying enough, but perhaps a less-revealing version of it would’ve been better served at the beginning. A brief history of how each of these species was introduced into Minnesota would’ve enhanced the experience too, but as it is it’s a more than satisfying read considering the limitation of its format.


I mainly recommend this volume those interested in flash fiction and modern poetry regardless of whether they’re intrigued by the premise or not. It’s a unique experience well worth exploring in today’s formula-saturated market.

The Golden Pot: And Other Tales of the Uncanny Story Collection 

by E.T.A. Hoffmann (translated from the German by Peter Wortsman)  ©2023, Archipelago 

Review by Kevin Canfield

In “Mademoiselle de Scudéry”—E.T.A. Hoffmann’s seminal crime novella and one of the stand-out entries in this stellar collection—the narrator notes that for most of recorded history, “the inclination to believe in the supernatural and the uncanny has always trumped all reason.” Views began to change during the Enlightenment, forcing Hoffmann and others who wrote strange and scary stories to grapple with a big question: Can a piece of fiction acknowledge the emergence of modern science, with its testable hypotheses and demonstrable results, while simultaneously conjuring an atmosphere of unfathomable eeriness?

 

Among the early 19th century writers who answered yes to this question, two rose above their peers. One was Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The other was Hoffmann, who broke ground in at least two genres and is hugely influential in music and literature to this day. According to an enlightening afterword by Peter Wortsman, who translated the stories in this handsome new edition from Archipelago Books, it’s not possible to recount the parallel (and sometimes overlapping) histories of science fiction and crime fiction without mentioning the stories Hoffmann wrote and published in his final decade and a half. Just 46 when he died of syphilis in 1822, he produced a body of work that had an enduring, if in some cases indirect, influence on Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Philip K. Dick, and many other writers.

 

A judge in his native Prussia and the composer of several intricately constructed operas, Hoffmann wrote a brand of fiction in which characters resembling the author himself—intellectuals with some money in their pockets—encounter beings that aren’t exactly human. In “Ritter Gluck,” the first entry in The Golden Pot, a Berliner who “learned to play piano and bass as a matter of good upbringing” befriends a musician who appears to be the ghost of long-dead composer C. W. Gluck. Another representative example is the title story, in which a student in Dresden delivers a “sad soliloquy” about his loneliness, which is relieved when he meets a young woman; alas, she’s actually a snake (what’s more, her father is a salamander). Both stories are entertaining and nicely paced, though some readers may find the characters a bit longwinded; it’s not uncommon for Hoffmann’s protagonists to deliver lengthy monologues. 

 

But the Hoffmann stories that stand out today are those in which primal fear intersects with—indeed, is stoked by—a society undergoing changes that baffle its inhabitants. Humming in the background of Hoffmann’s fiction are the machines of the Industrial Revolution, which profoundly reshaped the European cities in which he lived and worked.

 

In the beguiling 1814 story “The Automaton,” a man named Ferdinand becomes obsessed with a woman he hears singing in a neighboring room at an inn. Though he has glimpsed her face just once, from afar, Ferdinand has a medallion engraved with what he imagines to be her likeness; he's wearing it on a necklace when he and a friend set out to see the Talking Turk, a “wondrous living-dead figure” created by a local artist.  

 

The Turk is plainly a machine, its body “a gear box with cogs,” but the supposed accuracy of its "oracular pronouncements" is attracting crowds. When Ferdinand gets his chance to converse with the mechanical fortune teller, he asks about the only thing on his mind: the woman on his medallion. The Turk in turn reveals a seemingly impossible degree of familiarity with his interlocutor’s love life, thus prompting the protagonist to question everything. “Today,” Ferdinand says, “a strange, inimical force broke into the sanctuary of my innermost self!” More than two centuries before so-called deep fakes ignited worries about the authenticity of online videos, Hoffmann identified how “lifeless figures that mimic the human have an altogether sinister effect.” More broadly, it’s not a stretch to say that the ideas that underpin “The Automaton” speak to the most dehumanizing aspects of the internet age, when we all have reason to worry that our personal information is never entirely secure.   

 

“The Sandman” is equally unsettling. Published in 1816, it focuses on a man who can’t let go of the memory of a horrible incident from his youth. Spying on his father and an adult neighbor, young Nathaniel looked on in horror as the men seemed to conjure “human faces” from a fireplace. When the neighbor notices Nathaniel, he manhandles the boy and threatens to pluck out his eyes. Years later, Nathaniel happens upon a beautiful stranger who seems to be “sleeping with open eyes.” Though the reader soon understands that the woman’s flawless skin, hair and body are evidence that she’s a kind of automaton—she knows just one word (“Oh”) and rarely moves—Nathaniel, emotionally scarred by his assault, can’t see this for himself. Based on a timeless theme—don’t believe everything you see—it’s an intriguing story that a century later inspired Sigmund Freud to dub Hoffmann “the unsurpassed master of the uncanny in literature.” 

 

At nearly 100 pages, “Mademoiselle de Scudéry” is a twisty, gripping murder mystery that deserves a big-screen adaptation. After an unnamed stranger barges into her home and leaves her a package containing “lavish, diamond-studded” jewelry, the title character, a 73-year-old writer, becomes a major player in the investigation of a string of robberies and the murder of a local artisan. Wortsman informs us that some scholars call this novella “the earliest prototype of the detective genre,” and to read the protagonist’s riveting exchange with an accused killer is to realize the sleuths seen in BBC mysteries have nothing on Mademoiselle de Scudéry. In a book of stories that anticipated countless works of genre fiction, Hoffmann’s decision to foreground an astute, independent woman is notable. 

 

Yet it's probably not indicative of an enlightened stance on gender equality, for Hoffmann was something of a cad. Per Wortsman, Hoffmann contracted syphilis during "one of his many extra-marital involvements," and his "infatuation with an underage piano student" appalled his neighbors. But being aware of these aspects of Hoffmann's personal life is not the same as allowing them to interfere with our appreciation for his extensive artistic achievements. 

 

Scholars agree that the influence of Undine and the seven other operas he composed can be heard in the work of important Romantic composers, and as the novelist Karen Russell wrote recently in the New York Review of Books,Hoffmann's fiction was a prelude of sorts to the novels of Octavia Butler, Stephen King and Ursula K. Le Guin, and movies directed by David Lynch and Jordan Peele. Hoffmann wrote amid vast social change, and given his work's deft amalgamation of fear and awe, it's no wonder that the stories in this collection speak to the anxieties of the 21st century.

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device, Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher Series

by James Aquilone ©2016, Homunculus House.

Reviewed by J.D. Harlock

Among the many pleasures of being a reader are those rare moments where you realize you’ve stumbled on an unrecognized gem only you seem to know about. Dead Jack is one such series for me, standing out in an indie market that’s lacking in this kind of quality. Written by James Aquilone, the man behind the Kickstarter smash-hit horror anthology Monsters Unleashed, the Dead Jack series follows the zany hard-boiled adventures of its titular zombie detective and his homunculus sidekick, Oswald, as they’re called upon by the denizens of Pandemonium to investigate the supernatural ongoings in the five cities that make up their world. Totaling three novels and three short stories (with both a Hollywood and board game adaptation on the way), this criminally underrated franchise deserves a much bigger audience. For starters, you can’t find a better dysfunction junction of characters than the ones at each other’s throats here. The cast spends just as much time putting each other down as they do trying to figure out solutions to the conundrums they’ve gotten into, and it’s, surprisingly, a lot of fun. The world that surrounds them is just as crazy as they are. You definitely don’t want to live here, and I mean that in the best way. There’s a pulse to Pandemonium that you rarely find in fictional cities because the seedy atmosphere of this hellscape comes across so well that you feel you actually live there and want to get out just as much as the protagonists do. Topping off this lovable cast of mischievous outcasts and their oddly engrossing world is the sheer polish of it all. Even though it doesn’t have the resources of the series major publishers put out, you never feel like you’re in amateur hands that are trying to figure things out with each installment. The writing is economical and efficient, never dwelling on anything longer than it has to, but gives you plenty to chew on. In a sentence or two, Aquilone paints a vivid picture of the scenes his protagonists find themselves in along with the gruff, sarcastic, hardboiled voice (tinged with oddball fantastical references) that‘s so distinguishably Dead Jack’s. Everything moves at breakneck pace that culminates in a balls-to-the-wall climax that tops off the insanity that came before. Usually such plots tend to meander into ludicrousness, but no matter where the plot goes here, you never feel you’ve taken a detour. You can dive into this book without knowing a thing about the series and you wouldn’t miss a beat. Reading the second book enriches the experience in the same way it does for certain Marvel Cinematic Universe films. You can see why this series has drawn Hollywood’s attention. Usually, high concepts like Dead Jack are a one-and-done deal, but there’s so much more to this series than its initial pitch that I have to be reminded that it’s sold as a hardboiled series about a zombie detective. That's a shame, because some potential readers might be turned off. I’m glad I wasn’t, and I can’t wait to be back with the gang on the next mad adventure in their mad, mad world.

Merciless Mermaids: Tales from the Deep

Anthology. Executive editors Kevin J. Anderson and Allyson Longueira.

Editorial team: Scott T. Barnes (publisher and executive editor of NewMyths.com), Lois Bartholomew, Jessica Guernsey, Briannon Holifer, Lila Holley, Robert Johnson, Kelsey Kusnetzky, Victoria Lane, Jennifer Marts, Katherine Meeks, McKenzie Moore, Tracy Paddock, Aubrey Parry, Heidi Payne, and Logan Uber.  ©2023 WordFire Press.

Reviewed by Candyce Byrne


In August 1946, my family boarded an old merchant ship in New York harbor to sail to Stockholm for  my father’s new post at the US embassy. Passenger ships weren’t running yet because the North Sea was still mined. My mother, descendant of ruthless raiders who crossed the seas in open longboats, was terrified not just of being blown to bits but also because my three-year-old sister insisted on riding her tricycle through the ship and out onto the pitching deck, my mother in pursuit, clutching her newborn (me) over her chundering heart. Is that why I’m terrified of wild water and what might loom below? Or is it tales of the horrors my ancestors faced when they “went veeking,” as my Danish Nana put it? Is it personal? Cultural? Or common to us all, genetic, as deep as our dread of the forest, that other familiar metaphor for fear, psyche and soul? With offerings from D.J. Butler, E.H. Gaskins, Mercedes Lackey, Uri Kurlianchik, Rick Wilber and many more, Merciless Mermaids: Tails from the Deep plunges into these questions.


The anthology, executive edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Allyson Longueira, comprises the thesis projects of the graduate students in the Publishing Master of Arts program at Western Colorado University. I don’t have room to tell you about all 30 selections, so here’s a little taste of this fisherman’s feast of short fiction and poetry.


In L.N. Weldon’s “Bones to Lay to Rest,” an unsettling period piece set in a remote coastal inn, the ladies who run the inn realize that handsome young naturalist Dr. McCormack can’t be permitted to reveal what he’s discovered on the beach, and that Something will have to be done.


 “Our Sky,” by Gama Ray Martinez follows the two-man crew of a hyperspace ship as they try to find out what happened to a distant colony whose inhabitants have vanished. The main clue: reports that children were seeing mermaids frolicking in the sea, and then they vanished.


Inuit legend is the inspiration for “The Woman Who Held the Sea in Her Hair,” Em McDermott’s harrowing tale of love betrayed and the power of motherhood.


Karen Deblieck’s poem “O, My Loves” is horrific, beautiful, and skillful. I won’t spoil your path of discovery. Take the plunge.


“Apex Predators,” a flash by Zach Shephard, mixes monsters in another effective piece I can’t describe without spoiling the conundrum at its heart. 


In Jonathan Duckworth’s richly atmospheric “Muddy the Waters,” little Posey is caught in the lethal conflict between her wish-granting Water Auntie, who lives in the bayou, and her stern Methodist mother. What secrets lie between the sisters, and why is Momma weeping in the bathtub?


A bite of ningyo, a fish  man or fish woman, grants long life. It’s a pricey, off-the-menu item in the trendy Japanese restaurant Edomae in Ken Bebelle’s “The Last Ounce of Flesh.”  But the ningyo herself lives even longer. Escaped, healed, and driven by rage over years imprisoned in a fetid tank waiting for someone to purchase a gobbet of her living flesh, she’s out for revenge.


My favorite monster lurks in “The Lure of the Sea” by Michelle Tang. Despite unnecessarily withheld information and missed opportunities to plumb the psychologies of the abyss, the beast, once revealed, is perfect and awful. Set your questions aside and plough on to the payoff.


Mermaids are usually a dark subject, but not all the selections are grim. “Pretty Maids All In A Row” is Mercedes Lackey’s sometimes funny, sometimes grisly account of “Live Mermaids” in a skeezy amusement park defending themselves with their wits and their gifts.


Benjamin Butler Smith’s “Caecelia’s Tears” is a swashbuckling adventure that reads like pulp fiction from the Old Days.  


In “Mer-Made,” Uri Kurlianchik delivers a cross-genre caper about a hard-boiled private eye leading his intrepid crew of honest cops against the vicious mermaid mafia holding his seaside town hostage.


Mermaids can only fly in the rain, B.G. Hilton tells us in “Flight of the Mermaids,” but their skill and daring when heavy weather grounds other pilots more than make up for that limitation. With the Greatest War at a turning point, it’s fortunate that the Baron’s dirigible Hades appears during a downpour. The  mermaids of the 23rd Squadron—Neptune’s Thunderbolts—take to the air to take down the Baron and save the day. Such fun!


Seas, bayous, lakes, rivers, creeks, tanks, bathtubs, even the skiesmerciless mermaids could be anywhere.  Let them take you for a dip on the wild side.

The Night Field

by Donna Glee Williams

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

The Night Field is a rather complex story with multiple points of view and shifting timelines. As I began to write this review, I found myself outlining the various sections but soon gave up, as the task would have taken far too long.


The story opens with young Pyn-Poi, the principal protagonist, as a captive in some sadistic, Lord of the Flies-type scenario. In the yard of a prison, she is stuffed into a barrel and ravenous dogs are set loose to attack, trying to get at the fresh meat inside, for the purposes of entertaining the onlookers. We witness this difficult scene from various perspectives, including Pyn-Poi’s, a guard’s, a child’s, and a fellow prisoner’s. The (mostly off page) brutality and the sociopathic reactions of the onlookers inured to this level of violence warn us this is not the sort of society we ever want to devolve to.


Contrast this to Pyn-Poi’s origin, which we discover a few pages later as the tale goes back in time. Pyn-Poi and her people live in symbiosis with giant trees in a rainforest which they call the Real. Here, her father coaxes the trees into making bridges across the enormous rivers, a multi-generational task. Pyn-Poi wants nothing more than to emulate her father, to sculpt the trees into human-friendly shapes, and is always sneaking off to accompany dad in his work. Pyn-Poi’s mother, on the other hand, wants her to do more traditional female work, and eventually to become the matriarch of the tribe. 


Pyn-Poi’s mother says, “What’s good for the clan is good for the kin, and what is good for the kin, is good for the family, and what is good for the family is good for the one.” While the rebellious Pyn-Poi wonders if it doesn’t also flow the other way … “What’s good for the one shouldn’t also be good for family, kin, clan, and People.”


As in the previous chapter, we get to see the story from many different perspectives. Even the trees here get their own voice. My one complaint was that these multitudinous voices drew focus away from Pyn-Poi’s adventure more than I would have liked.


In my mind, as I read The Night Field I kept picturing the Amazon basin, with its magnificent trees and labyrinth of waterways. In this gentle world (gentle, but not easy), humans and the environment work together, rather than one wrestling for mastery over the other. Like the Amazon basin, this is a place of rainfall, waterways … and drought. When the monsoons come (my word), the rivers gurgle and grow, and the humans climb for the safety of the tall trees and even the cliffs, which lead to some sort of mesa above the rainforest. A place where other sorts of humans live with a very different, industrial attitude towards nature.


I couldn’t think of a good way of saying this, so I will go with what first came to mind. The Night Field does not underestimate its readers. While its pace is not fast, the story never stops to explain itself. Everything remains well within the point of view and knowledge of the characters, with no “telling” so that us outsiders can figure out what is going on. This is both beautiful and, at times, frustrating. Especially if you cannot read it all the way through in one go. 


The rains come, the people climb, but the rains do not bring the rejuvenation Pyn-Poi and her people are expecting. The rains themselves seem to be poisoning the people and trees. Pyn-Poi is forced to go on a mission to the Plains of the Ancestors beyond the Wall and beg her ancestors to intercede. But first she has to get beyond industrial man (my words).


Despite what you might be thinking, this is not a story that lectures or hits the reader over the head with messaging. Of course, an ecological warning is there, but it comes to us gently, through the eyes of the people who live it. 


Donna Glee William's simple, beautiful prose transports us to a Sylvain wonderland with woven bridges, mysterious currents, magical flora, and more familial love and conflict than most mainstream novels. When the child Pyn-Poi led me into in William's word-forest, I did not want to leave.


Highly recommended.

The Gravity of Existence  

©2022 Interstellar Flight Press

Reviewed by Jasmine Arch (Jasmien Plate)


Micro-Poetry Dissects the Universe


A few months ago, I received an ARC copy of The Gravity of Existence by three-time

Stoker Award-winner and frequent NewMyths contributor Christina Sng. I have a soft

spot for micro-poetry so I was eager to dig in, but life got in the way. When I gave

myself time to sit and read, my first thought was, Hot damn. Why did I wait so long?


Snappy, humorous, and dark, this collection is one to browse again and again, with

poems that will hit differently at different times. Even if you believe poetry isn’t your

thing, is inaccessible, too hard to understand, too anything, please give The Gravity

of Existence a try.


Sng moves from heartbreak and introspection in the first poems to casual violence in

the haiku sequence “Monstress” so effortlessly that envy turns me bright green.

Nothing feels out of place, quite a feat with poems that fit within the space of a

breath on topics ranging from new looks at well-known fairytales, to monsters

shamelessly reclaiming their identity and their monstrosity, to space explorers and

their cats.


Most of the poems are grouped into themed sequences that tell a story. When the

story reimagines a well-known fairytale, the layers turn inside out to create

something different, more feral, more rebellious, just more. Sng may put us in

someone else’s shoes or take us back to childhood fears, where every sheet

flapping in the wind harbors a ghost or a ghoul. When the theme turns to science

fiction, we witness hopelessness and frustration in a failed exodus, a hull breech, or

a colony that fails to thrive, but also a stubborn defiance of the odds. Space travelers

clinging to a beloved pet, transplanting flowers from home, determined to build a life.


From “Requiem” at the close of the book but also with sequences like “Nuclear,”

“How We Die,” or the singleton poem “Rare Peaceful Day on Earth,” Sng reminds us

that no matter how we dream of different stars and planets, Earth is the home we

have and must care for.


The “Little Red in Haiku” sequence especially stood out to me, as well as “The Many

Ways We Die in Space,” and of course, “Cats in Space.” Because it’s cats in space.

Speaks to my inner Ellen Ripley, I suppose.


I don’t like to ascribe a numerical value to books, but if I must, I give The Gravity of

Existence nine out of ten astronaut kittens

Can You Sign My Tentacle?  

Poetry collection by Brandon O’Brien ©2021, Interstellar Flight Press

Review by Jasmine Arch 


By a stroke of luck, the cover for Brandon O’Brien’s debut collection Can You Sign My Tentacle? rolled across my Twitter feed, beckoning me with a curling tentacle. I knew I’d read it sooner or later, but little did I know I’d get the chance to interview the poet himself.  The conversation taught me not just about the book and how it came to be but also about a loveable person and poet and the craft of poetry itself. It also made me eager to reread the book from this new vantage point. Can You Sign My Tentacle? combines elements of hip-hop with Lovecraftian monsters, subverting the eldritch genre and challenging readers to look at racism, sexism, and violence through a new and honest lens.


When the writing in front of me has a rhythm I want to taste and feel, I read aloud, even if it's only whispers. Even when not reading aloud, I hear my own voice in my head. Every now and then, however, I come across a voice so strong it drowns me out. That's what I encountered in this book. Brandon O'Brien was shouting at me from its pages. Usually when I'm reading poetry, I savor the poems, one or two at a time. But I drank this book down in big greedy gulps. The rhythm, the sound quality and word choice made it go down like a heady glass of wine. The way some words were placed, on a line of their own amid two-line stanzas, made them feel like a punch to the jaw, sans bruising (thank goddess). The poems contain a range of emotion combined with an ease of sound and movement that seems effortless but in reality is far from it.

 

I have few touch points with the author in terms of background and culture. If that were different, if these poems could be a new and empowering lens through which to see my world and myself, my reading of them would undoubtedly be different. But this collection transcends those differences to speak of resilience and strength in the face of oppression. The immersive way they're written allowed me to experience what they're saying, making me wish that at certain points in my past I could have been “the girl-god, jaw distending” from Cthylla Asks for J. Cole's Autograph. Such immersion makes poetry a powerful experience and is a big part of what made me fall in love with the genre in the first place.

 

The poems draw on Lovecraft's mythos, and I find it amazing that artists across different media are taking his work, building on it, and making it their own. "But Jasmine," you might say. "I don't know anything about Lovecraft or his work. How am I supposed to understand references to work I'm unfamiliar with?"  I'm no fan of Lovecraft myself—ethical questions aside, I struggle with his prose style. And yet I had no problem reading these poems. The author took the bones of something pre-existing and rearranged them, replacing the connective tissue with something of his own making, allowing everything to move in new ways to form unique connections. Would it have changed my reading and interpretation to be familiar with Lovecraft’s work? Probably. Do these poems stand on their own without leaning on Lovecraft references? Absolutely.

 

For people who live in a society that tries to keep them under its boot heel, I say "read this." For those living a more privileged life I say the same, because all of us become better when we look at the world from a different vantage point. I'm not a fan of five-star ratings because every book is unique; comparing them can feel like comparing whales to seahorses. However, if I had to rate Can You Sign My Tentacle? I'd give it 7.5 out of eight chromatophores.*

___________

*Chromatophores: one of the cell types that allow cephalopods to camouflage their skin with uncanny speed and accuracy.


Spacers Snarled in the Hair of Comet

Poetry collection by Bruce Boston - ©2022 by Mind’s Eye Publications

Review by Herb Kauderer 

Songbook for a Revolution

Ostensibly a collection of twenty-two poems by Bruce Boston, Spacers Snarled in

the Hair of Comets reads more like a songbook for a revolution, this revolution

being an upheaval of imagination rather than political issues. At least three of the

poems take the reader to futuristic bars for drinks and songs, just the sorts of places

to agitate the crowd to think thoughts previously unexplored.

Five of the poems use some form of the word spacers in the title, including the first

two and the last. On one hand, this signals that the majority of the book takes place

off-planet; on the other hand, it establishes that much of it takes place in emotional

and cultural space. It takes the drama and sensual input of earthly life and moves it

to realms of the imagination and to realms off-earth. Through song. We are all

spacers in our own subjective interior landscapes peopled with our own beliefs and

the imaginations of every story we drink. This book reminds us there is a

soundtrack with those landscapes.

Songs are overtly identified, such as “Song of the Eternal Sailors,” which is about

navigating beliefs. Those are personal beliefs such as “The wages of the past have

covered all our sins.” And mythic beliefs, such as Odysseus, Ahab, and Nemo.

Belief is the connective tissue between earth and space.

Regarding the end of the night in a bar or perhaps the end of the night’s stories,

“The Music of Deep Spacers” includes:

the music all at once changes

to a vast and haunting refrain

that echoes the depths of space,

the solitude of ceaseless travel.

“Beyond the Edge of Alien Desire” contains small homages to Robert Frost,

ending with “blue miles to go before I wake,” but also a sense of “Acquainted with

the Night,” as the narrator has become acquainted with a night of sex with an alien

described in a way that somehow also conjures Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets,

especially Sonnet XLII.

There is perhaps another Frost reference within “In a Spacer’s Bar” where the

narrator is enthralled with the exotic space stories of an old man who turns out to

be “a deranged cost accountant” who’d never left earth. Yet the space fraud’s

stories were:

ablaze within my mind,

far more full of fire and ice

than anything of mine.

Here the “Fire and Ice” Frost sees as the end of the world serve as desirable

doorways to the challenges of other worlds. This fits with the advice that “The Star

Drifter Grounded” receives from his friend Zenthyl that “any land is lovable” and

begs the question of whether any imaginary land is lovable.

Boston also includes the epigraph “after William Carlos Williams” with

“Interstellar Tract,” further connecting these speculative poems to mainstream

poets. There are less certain allusions to the classics as well. For readers of

speculative poetry, the mainstream poets are both alien and imaginary.

The nature of dreams as almost reality in “The Star Dreamers” is powerful

standing alone as a poem but also gives a hard truth about science fiction fans and

fandom, ending with:

If we plan to survive there

are tasks we should define.

Instead we sit and barter

tales of lives we never lived,

of worlds we never conquered

and things we never did.

Much of the book can be looked at in the context of science fiction fandom, but

that is a disservice, as the work is far more an examination of the nature of

imagination and art. “Beneath an Alien Sky” moves the question of art closer to the

forefront.

Yet still the sidereal

shapes of night remain,

arbitrary and bright

as any work of art.

The book closes with “Spacer’s Compass,” which may be asking what happens

when imagination and science fiction age: “Old I grow… galactic old / the polar

night now calls my name”

Space has no directions

and holds all directions at once

a well of radiant possibilities

all matter of strangeness

The last line of all is a paraphrase of The Gettysburg Address: “…and the stars are

for the living,” which, despite the prior claim of space being directionless and

combined with the compass of the title, asks readers to orient their imagination

toward the future. Of course, the span of this book is much wider than just the

future. It captures the full compass rose of experience including future pasts, past

futures, and the side trail of myth.

In the end, this is a rich entry from one of specpo’s grandmasters, a writer whose

creativity cannot be limited by a compass.


Monstress by Marjorie Liu - llustrated by Sana Takeda  ©  Image Comics

Review by Brittany Bjorndal  


Magical, Mysterious, Magnetic:

Monstress Will Move You and Leave You Buzzed


Monstress is an enthralling comic book series written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda. Gripping from the get-go, this series is hauntingly beautiful and not for the faint of heart. Following Maika Halfwolf, an unusual heroine with a dark side of her own, through a dangerous world full of magical creatures, monsters, friends, and foes, this gritty epic fantasy delivers a fascinating and original plotline that re-invokes the possibilities of comic books and stories. Whether you’ve been a comic book junkie for a long time or have yet to read a comic book, let Monstress, The Awakening take you to a badass world that stirs the psyche and revs up the resolve that even in the darkest places, courage, will, and love will prevail.

The story opens with Maika Halfwolf up for bid as a 17- year-old Arcanic with a human appearance. Named “Lot 819,” this beautiful creature with a missing arm is far more powerful than eyes can see, as bidders will soon discover.

Being up for bid is the least of Halfwolf’s worries as she moves among groups of conflicting orders, ranging from Arcanics, Cumea, and humans, to Inquisitrixes, shamans, and bloodthirsty scientists. The fascinating Arcanics are magical creatures believed to be descendants of the highly regarded “Ancients” and much hunted by other power-hungry groups, including humans. Human-appearing other than a curious symbol hidden in the center of her chest, Maika Halfwolf has a destiny greater than herself.

With a non-linear timeline, flashbacks and flashforwards are all the reader has to piece together the mysterious unfolding of Halfwolf’s journey to avenge her mother’s death and to discover the truth and history of the powerful ancient shaman empress whose death moved the wide world of Monstress into upheaval and war. From the city of Zamora to mist-laden forests, the reader is taken through magical dimensions, with glimpses from the past, present, and future, to navigate everything from mansions and science labs to mountains and prison cells.

The characters in this story are imaginative, original, and intriguing, with innovative traits and complex layers. A fox cub with a pure heart, a witch who can read memories, a wise soul who appears as a young girl complete with a pet eagle, and two-tailed wizard cats who love to quote “the poets,” this epic dark fantasy is magnificent in its re-imagining of character. Even the villains are captivating and appear just as gruesome as they act. Not only are we met with lost-souled villains but also with intelligent, cunning, and calculating villains. Even the dark side of Maika Halfwolf herself reveals that all true heroes battle their inner shadows as much as the cold, villain-filled world they find themselves in. Dynamic, multi-dimensional, alluring, these characters leave their thumbprints in your memory and a tight grip on your heartstrings as you move through this dark fantasy you won’t want to leave.

Not only is Ms. Liu a stellar writer, but she is creating space for previously under-represented characters. Liu’s award-winning works include over 17 novels and a number of comic book series. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Seattle, hers is a voice we need as she shows us the possibilities the comic book form holds for the future.

Originally from Niigata, Japan, and now living in Tokyo, the illustrator, Sana Takeda, has a background in video game graphics and has been sharpening her skills since she was young. Pick up the first volume of the series, The Awakening, and you’ll see how epic her graphics are. I guarantee you cannot resist being moved by her powerful work. In the end, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda have created a gem.

Volume One of the series contains a map of the fantastic world and a write-up by Ms. Liu about the background and inspiration for her captivating story. Each book is as good if not better than the previous one, and the series is still ongoing, with six volumes to date. Gritty, bold, and hauntingly beautiful, this comic series is the daring voice of today you will love to love again and again.

A House of Untold Stories by Peter Chiykowski

Reviewed by J.D. Harlock  


VISIT THE HOUSE OF UNTOLD STORIES

Early on, we’re informed that every page in The House of Untold Stories is a door, and that every door leads to a new tale of heartbreak, triumph, horror, or imagination. Having just finished the book last night, I’m happy to report that this collection of flash fiction pieces by Peter Chiykowski delivers on that promise.

As with any collection of stories, there are stories you’ll love and stories you’ll wonder why were included, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t smiling the whole way through. The sheer creativity on display blew me away, with selections running the gamut from apocalyptic fiction to haunted house horror to urban fantasy and everything in between. Each concoction comes with a unique twist on these genres and their tropes that'll have you marveling at the ingenuity on display as much as the craftsmanship.

Comedies like “Three Weeks To Live” and “Our New Ritual” will have you rolling on the floor, tearjerkers like “The Time Machine” and “The Vines of Sorreastro” will have you grabbing for tissues, and horror stories like “Bite” and “Aunt Ellen’s Doll Collection” will keep you up at night with the lights on. By the end you’ll have trouble picking a favorite, and I mean that as a compliment (if I had to pick mine, it would be “Crossroads at Midnight,” which is the cleverest twist on a worn-out premise I’ve seen in a long time).

That’s not to say everything’s perfect. Pieces like “Witches’ Deep” should have been developed into short stories, while others like “After the Sunset” should have been polished more, and ones like “The Gods Meet” and “The Show Must Go On” could have been cut entirely. But such pieces are few, and being flash fiction, they go by so fast that they don’t impact the reading experience.

Such success can only happen when an author has gathered a staggering fifty flash pieces together, and at the very least, rest assured you’ll be entertained if not outright blown away by these yarns. If you're looking for a breezy palate cleanser between the heart-wrenching door stoppers the industry keeps publishing, check this one out. With fifty tales to pick from, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.


------


Peter Chiykowski - Author

Peter Chiykowski is the creator of the award-winning webcomic Rock Paper Cynic and the designer of The Story Engine Deck of writing prompts. His new book of microfiction The House of Untold Stories is forthcoming from Andrews-McMeel Publishing on August 31, 2021. He has twice won the Aurora Award for “Best Graphic Novel” from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, and his writing, art, and memes have appeared in or been covered in books, newspaper articles, blogs, tabletop games, video games, and magazines coast to coast.


J.D. Harlock  - Reviewer

J. D. is a Lebanese/Palestinian/Syrian writer based in Beirut. He graduated from the LAU Adnan Kassar School of Business in the spring of 2017 and just finished his masters in International Relations at the Queen Mary University of London.


The Brass Queen by Elizabeth Chadsworth

Reviewed by Scott T Barnes 


Miss Constance Haltwhistle has a number of problems. First, she must keep her identity as Queen Victoria’s arms supplier a secret. Second, her prize scientists get kidnapped at her coming-out ball. Third, if she doesn’t get married into nobility within a week, she will lose her sizable estates. Besides the obvious difficulties, see point the second. Fourth, she is being hunted by any number of assassins, and chainmail underwear only protects one so far. Finally, and most importantly, she must juggle all these conundrums while strictly following the etiquette in Babett’s Modern Manners.


I can count on one hand the books that I consider hilarious. I am thrilled to report that The Brass Queen can be added to the list. (Still, sadly, one finger remains unassigned.)


The Brass Queen is a steampunk novel like no other. Set in an alternate 1897 England where steam powers miraculous, science fiction-like contraptions, the romantic adventure (or adventuring romantics?) mixes fish-out-of-water humor with James Bond style adventure, if Ms. Bond had to wear a bustle to comply with societal norms…while simultaneously concealing smoke grenades and a blunderbuss. 


The Brass Queen had me laughing from the starting gate. Honestly, if all steampunk were written like this it would be my favorite genre. We all need a good laugh nowadays, don’t you think? and the funhouse mirror it reflects of ourselves isn’t all that far off the mark.


Here’s a sample:


“I believe this is another US favorite.” [Miss Haltwhistle] gestured toward the whiskey. “As you might refer to it, ‘rotgut.’ I’ve heard that whisky doesn’t solve every problem, but it’s sure worth a shot.” She grinned. “That’s an American joke I picked up from one of my father’s periodicals.”

Apparently, despite the pun and the gun, she was trying to be charming.

It was almost working.


Miss Haltwhistle is a fiery redhead with high expectations of herself and everyone else, unshakable confidence in her own abilities and judgment, a need to win every argument, and exceeding pride in her swine herd. She also has a thinly repressed romantic streak that revs up when a mysterious American by the name Justice Franklin Trusdale shows up at her coming-out ball. Right before the scientists get kidnapped.

Coincidence? Or rogue?


All while investigating her American guest, Miss Haltwhistle tries to find and rescue her three missing scientists. The adventure takes the reader on a delightful tour of this imaginary part of England, the Phyrro (science) Club, the Steamwerks military installation, a delightfully risqué print shop, a burlesque show, a ball or two, and of course a low-speed balloon chase.  Naked, invisible assassins keep throwing a monkey wrench into Miss Haltwhistle’s plans, pushing her chance at marriage and estate salvaging further and further away. Meanwhile Trusdale becomes more heroic, more likable, and more mysterious by the day. Not to mention more insufferable. More stubborn. And worst of all, more American. Why can’t he let those invisible assassins steal his Stetson, anyway? He’d look oh so much better in a top hat and tails.


One should never schedule the assassination of one’s queen and host a major garden party in the same week. Prince Lucien Albert Dunstan, third Duke of Hallamshire, thirteenth in line to the British throne, and Queen Victoria’s favorite grandson, was having a devil of a time keeping the details straight.


Oh yes, the villain is just as fun as the hero in this smashing good tale.


I could go on and on, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice to say I can’t recommend The Brass Queen enough.

Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Reviewed by Scott T Barnes 


“May the winds be favorable,” you say.

“And the skies clear,” I reply.

Thus, goes the traditional greeting of the Imperial Island, land of the Empire, the setting in The Bone Shard Daughter. Strange as it seems, this is a floating island, as are all the islands in this very original fantasy novel.

The story is told through multiple first-person narratives. First, we meet Lin, the daughter of the Emperor of Imperial Island. Twenty-three-year-old Lin is next in line for the throne, but there is a problem. She has forgotten everything that happened to her before the age of 19.

“How can I trust you with my secrets if you don’t know who you are?” her father asks her.

Bayan, her father’s foster son, has earned seven keys, symbols of how far he has progressed in magic. The seventh key represents bone shard magic, the highest level of magic in the realm. Lin has only progressed to level six. Her father refuses to teach her more until she manages to recall her past.

In fact, he threatens to make foster-son Bayan into his heir.

What is bone shard magic? Wizards who command the bone shards can remove a piece of a person’s skull, something called “trepanning,” and create automatons with it.  (I urge you to look up “trepanning;” the history is fascinating.) These Frankenstein-like automatons power the Empire and do everything from guard chambers to post wanted signs. They seem able to follow simple commands and have a certain level of discernment between conflicting priorities.

The bone shards are taken from the populace at the tithing festivals each year, and the victims aren’t necessarily pleased about it. Some of them do not survive the experience. 

Right away we get a sense that this is not a standard LoTR derivative. While the story has many points that will resonate with fantasy fans (empires, princesses, sibling rivalries…) it has lots to makes it original and different. The bone-shard magic makes one cringe and shudder. We are not sure we like this Empire the princess Lin is born into. We are not sure if they are the good guys, the bad guys, or something in the between. 

We are told that there is an evil force known as the Alanga that may rise up at any time to reclaim the islands, though that may be propaganda to keep people in line. To be sure, great events are afoot. A statue has opened its eyes. Raiders are making war. An island sinks beneath the sea.

The Bone Shard Daughter offers several different narrators, and the second one we meet is Jovis, a smuggler looking for his lost—and presumably kidnapped—wife. He is a man who always keeps his promises, and early on he is forced to promise that he will rescue a boy from the trepanning ceremony. He just succeeds when the island begins to tremble, and then shake, and then sink. Jovis has to flee the sinking island, boy in tow. On the open water in his smuggler’s skiff, Jovis rescues a web-footed, cat-like creature, and then, on the next island, runs into bounty-hunter trouble. 

After Jovis we meet Phalue, swordsman, daughter of an island governor and reformed philanderer, a woman who just had a spat with her girlfriend. Unable to find peace through sword practice, resolved to make amends with her lover, Phalue returns home to a ransacked apartment. She finds amongst the disorder a ransom note for her girlfriend Ranami.

Later we meet Sand, a harvester of mangoes who seems to be in some sort of human bondage to her village. A fall from a tree knocks thoughts of rebellion into her.

Great events are happening, indeed. And all of these stories will intersect at some point.

I had a great time reading The Bone Shard Daughter. I am told it has some influence from Asian stories but I haven’t read enough to know. In any case, it is both familiar and unique. If there is an issue, really more of a nitpick, it is that the older cast of characters sounds a lot like the teenage characters we normally associate with fantasy novels. I would have preferred a little more maturity in the characters, a little more brokenness and less purity of motivation. But that is a small thing in this thoroughly enjoyable novel. It is the first in a series. I plan to read all of them.

When To Know  Anthology Edited by Alison McBain

Reviewed by Robert Runte' 


NOT YOUR EVERYDAY TIME TRAVEL TALES 


Here’s an anthology you’re unlikely to have come across on your own but that is nevertheless worth a look. The publisher, Fairfield Scribes, is a writers/editors group out of Fairfield, Connecticut, but since its anthologies include outsiders and most of the authors are widely published elsewhere, this isn’t your usual vanity exercise. It goes without saying that the quality in any anthology will vary, but this one is generally solid and includes some real standouts. It’s well worth the $2.92 Kindle price.


The collection’s greatest strength is that most of the authors aren’t necessarily grounded in science fiction and fantasy, making the variation in styles and genre much greater than one would expect from a time travel anthology. Easily two-thirds of the stories would be at home in any mainstream literary journal—which is to say, they focus more on character development than on the surprise of time travel. After fifty years of reading every time travel story ever, it’s hard to surprise me with the usual paradoxes, so it was nice to see some people stories for a change.


 “Ruby’s Paradox,” the first and featured story, is what you get when a “literary” author ends up a fan of Dr. Who. If you were as disappointed as I was in the recent Dr. Who episode dealing with Rosa Parks, you need to read this much-better-written account of Ruby’s meeting the Man in the White Suit. “Baggage” is a similarly satisfying story of personal development. Both are available to read free in the generous sample provided in Amazon’s “look inside” feature.


My two favorite stories, however, were straight-forward time travel jaunts. “Ten Minutes Past Teatime” is a wonderful, feminist, steampunk-meets-Vikings action adventure, and “The Service Call” asks what happens if your “do over” system malfunctions at an inopportune moment. “Service Call” made me laugh, and “Ten Minutes Past” kept me smiling.


“Reality Zero” is a nicely accomplished parallel timeline story, “A Winter’s Day” is a cryogenics piece, “Shifting” is an engaging Arabian Nights sort of tale, “Disjointed” is a stoner adventure á la Bob and Ted, and so on. A couple of stories are overlong because they’re predictable to anyone familiar with time travel canon, but “Turns of Fate” actually has an idea I haven’t come across before, and “Dinosaurs and Oats” is just delightfully whimsical.  At 18 stories and 384 pages, there’s a lot to choose from.


What makes themed anthologies so interesting is the wildly different take each author has on the same general topic. When to Now pushes that variety beyond the usual boundaries of the genre to pull in authors from outside, thus providing a glimpse of the state of modern short fiction. Writers, in particular, may be interested to see what’s out there, and how science fiction and fantasy themed work might be repackaged for mainstream markets.

FINDER   by Susanne Palmer

Reviewed by Lisa Timpf 


Fergus Ferguson, protagonist of Suzanne Palmer’s novel Finder, has a seemingly simple mission: repo the starship Venetia’s Sword, stolen from the Shipbuilders of Pluto. Arum Gilger, the thief, is unlikely to hand over the keys without a fight, but the difficulty of the challenge only makes it more interesting for the clever and resourceful Fergus. He’s confident he’ll find a way.


The assignment brings Fergus to the Cernekan system, known as “Cernee” to the locals. Cernekan consists of a “ring station . . . surrounded by a halo . . .  of hollowed-out rocks, scavenged dead ships, and a haphazard collection of building-sized tin cans . . . tied together with hundreds of crisscrossing cables.” It’s a marginal place where people are barely able to scratch out a living. But it seems nothing is too small to fight over, and when Fergus arrives in the system, a civil war is brewing.


Determined not to get embroiled in the conflict, Fergus reminds himself that he just needs to follow his normal routine: “slip in, look around, get what he came for, and get out, and leave no trace.” Audacious scheming puts Fergus one step from reclaiming the ship. The universe, however, throws a curve-ball that puts his plans in disarray and rocks his self-confidence. The notion strikes him that “for the first time, he [is] going to lose.” Stubborn to the core, Fergus refuses to give up.


Palmer takes us to an abandoned mine, the sunshields that generate Cernee’s power, and a farm habitat where a family grows lichen as their main product. Though much of the story is set in Cernekan, circumstances force Fergus to return to Mars, where he is recognized as a hero in certain circles.


Hovering in the background are the enigmatic aliens known as the Asiig, who swoop by periodically, sending everyone in Cernekan into watchful hiding. Fergus also struggles with his own internal conflicts about what to do, often fueled by regrets about the past. The action keeps the story moving, with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.


Getting around in a setting that is mostly space requires innovative solutions for everything from transportation to life support systems. We are introduced to self-sealing exosuits, oxygen tank charging stations, flysticks (pogo-stick-like devices that propel their riders through space), and different methods of warfare (filament wire that can shred an exosuit, for example).


Humor is woven throughout in repartee between characters, Fergus’ wry observations, and funny situations. On one occasion, Fergus, who was born in Scotland, advises one of his companions against eating a certain dish:  “when someone who comes from the land of haggis and black pudding tells you something is inedible, you should trust them.” When Fergus is struggling to regain consciousness after an explosion, he wonders “Can you be uncomfortable and dead at the same time? If so, that seemed unfair.”


Initially Fergus comes across as a likeable scamp, but by gradually revealing his past, Palmer makes him a more-rounded and more sympathetic character. It’s easy to relate to the story of the family farm in Scotland that was claimed by rising waters, a calamity his parents never adjusted to and that took its toll on Fergus and shaped the man he became. Similarly, events on Mars impact Fergus’ willingness to get involved and explain his reluctance to allow others to become entangled in his battles.


The underlying notions of Palmer’s book are also thought-provoking. She paints a future in which humans and other sentient beings have chewed through natural resources, even on the farthest-flung rim of the galaxy, forcing them to marginal locales like Cernekan; an Earth where flooding has claimed farms and cities; and a Mars where an underground rebellion battles corporate interests that want to wring every particle of value from the planet without care for the colonists themselves. Despite the downsides of Palmer’s future world, there are wonders as well, including the workings of the Shipbuilders of Pluto, described by Fergus as “the most weirdly brilliant people he knows.” And, perhaps most important, good people are still trying to fight for what they believe in against seemingly impossible odds.


Palmer is a Hugo-winning writer, and it’s easy to see why. Although Finder is the first of Palmer’s works I’ve read, I’ll gladly seek out others. I found it inventive, insightful, engrossing, and entertaining—an enjoyable read.

A Collection of Dreamscapes   by Christina Sng

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes


Christina Sng is one of the most prolific and gifted speculative poets working today. A Collection of Nightmares won the prestigious Bram Stroker award. Her new work, A Collection of Dreamscapes is equally worthy of your attention.


The book is divided into five “themes” or sections entitled The Love Song of Allegra, Fairy Tales, All the Monsters in the World, The Capacity of Violence, and Myths and Dreamscapes. Each has 15 or more poems ranging from a few stanzas to several pages. The poems tend towards short lines and free form rather than longer lines with a fixed rhythm and meter.


The Love Song of Allegra reads like the poet’s rendition of mythology. Some of the tales obviously feature mythological characters and events (i.e. Prometheus, the titan credited with bringing fire to humanity in Greek literature) and others are so vivid and evocative that I spent a good deal of time trying to find the original myths online; only to conclude that Sng must have invented them. This section is good fun, and the poems have enough depth and truth to create myths in their own right. If you read this section and are not enthralled, read no further. But for most of you, stopping will be the last thing on your mind.


Fairy Tales is what you would expect, a poetic examination of some classic tales. One of the poems appearing here was first published in NewMyths. Grandmother Red begins:


One never quite recovers

From the trauma 

Of being eaten.


Yes, there is humor in Sng’s work, even though she tends to write on the darker side of human nature.


All the Monsters in the World and The Capacity of Violence explore that darker side. Monsters is more symbolic and universal, while Violence delves deeper into those creatures, human or otherwise, who do not control the monster within, and indeed take pleasure from letting it out. I found these poems disturbing and could not read them straight through but only in little doses. Herein we find the second poem from NewMyths, The Forest of Discarded Baby Girls. It’s opening is:


No Man dares enter

The forest of discarded baby girls

After sundown in the dead of night.


The wind howls

When another girl is abandoned,

Always at the edge of the forest…


Disturbing? Yes. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned for those who listen.


Finally we have Myths and Dreamscapes. Some of these are retellings of myths and mysteries (The Giants of Easter Island and Styx) and others are the author’s inventions such as The Magic of Crystals and Moonlight in the Playground, possibly my favorite.


Christina Sng is an author I recommend you get to know better. Best of all, you can sample her writing before purchasing! Read a couple of her poems here in NewMyths, and if you like them, by all means buy A Collection of Dreamscapes from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

WATT O'HUGH and the INNOCENT DEAD   by Steven S, Drachman

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong


HELL OF AN ENDING FOR O’HUGH

Sticking the landing is important. It can win the competition or cause a loss if one misses. In the case of the modern toxic fandom, missing the landing can make legions of fans hate you (Game of Thrones is an excellent example). Book series are similar. Authors who open up multiple threads throughout their story need to weave them all together in the end in a satisfying  (or at least sensible) way for their readers. Or risk suffering the wrath of fandom. 


In our third look at the legendary pulp hero Watt O'Hugh the Third, we are again greeted with multiple timelines. We start off right before the beginning of book two for a little prophesizing before being radically pulled out into not only a different time but also a different world. O'Hugh finds himself in the Hell of the Innocent Dead, where those who were betrayed by someone close go after they die, like an evil purgatory. He is about to be devoured by a giant sand crab but is saved by the terrible poet Yu Dai-Yung. While Master Yu was a major and even viewpoint character in the previous novels, this appears to be the first meeting of the two.


Master Yu explains what the Hell of the Innocent Dead is and the basic rules. He also tells O'Hugh he’s there to raise an army to help fight Sidonism,  the evil Utopian totalitarian movement Watt’s been fighting on Earth since book one. 


The hell they’re trapped in is similar to Earth, though time seems simultaneously to exist and not to exist. Everything tastes slightly off and bad, and, try as one might, there’s never a way to be fully clean. All matter of mythical beasts and monsters exist, pushing the novel more into the fantasy realm versus the magical realism of the previous books. O'Hugh is going to be central to the final battle in hell, though no one is quite sure how.


Along the way the pair meets an interesting cast of supporting characters and has various side (mis)adventures. O'Hugh's heroic nature prevents him from letting a girl, Althea, be sold into slavery, so the pair becomes a trio seeking to recruit Warlord Hua's mighty army. Hua agrees to join the battle in exchange for the Emerald Gemstone of Thoth, a stone that contains the secrets of the universe. Our heroes not only have to recruit an army of gods and titans (with special help from a prominent character from earlier in the series) but also to get demons on their side by convincing them that things can go back to the way they were before the Sidonians. Everything leads up to an epic battle at the gates of hell.


As I said in my reviews of The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh and Watt O’Hugh Underground, I really enjoyed the first book but felt the second was a bit muddled. In the third, Drachman goes back to O’Hugh’s viewpoint, which brings along the wit and sense of humor missing from chunks of Underground). This novel mixes in more elements of fantasy by moving its setting to hell. Drachman's version of hell, or at least the Hell of the Innocent Dead, is fascinating, which is why I was frustrated that he kept pulling us out of it for "side missions" or O’Hugh’s memories. 


Like the previous novels, Innocent Dead is part of O’Hugh’s memoirs, and Drachman goes on tangents that, while related to the main story, detract from it. The memoir aspect also takes a bit of tension out of the final battle as we know our main hero will be fine.


Drachman is a talented writer, although the story would have been vastly improved by better focus. Still, the author gave us a long look at human nature and Drachman gave a look at the varying degrees of hope we all seek out in our lives, whether we admit to it or not. 


While most of the novel was fairly dark, one passage stands out. When O'Hugh laments how people are generally bad he’s reminded, "'Not the firemen!' [the Oracle] exclaimed, and she was correct, I allowed. There could indeed be an egalitarian paradise on Earth if only everyone could be just exactly like the firemen, people who would run into burning buildings for no glory, no extra money, just because a building burned and there were lives to be saved."


Watt O'Hugh and the Innocent Dead ends the trilogy, but I feel it won't be the last we see of our pulp hero. While the novel may not give fans closure, it certainly gives continuation and a new adventure in a new world. Worth a read if you are a fan and if not, I strongly recommend the first novel, The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh. Get a taste for it and see where you go from there.  


You may also want to read our reviews of The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh and Watt O'Hugh Underground.

Jumpship Hope   by Adria Laycraft

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Jumpship Hope starts with a familiar dystopian theme and quickly takes off into outer space adventure.

Something is seriously wrong with the planet earth. Everything alive—trees, plants, insects, mammals, etc. —seems to be infected and dying. The best scientists left—in orbit around the blue (but no longer green) planet—are working furiously to discover a solution to the problem. But their lack of progress is beyond frustrating for impetuous fighter pilot Janlin. 

The only other human colony on Mars has shut its ports, effectively condemning the orbiting humans to a slow death…unless they find a cure.

But Janlin has another plan. 

Escape.

With a few other military types, including her ex-lover, Janlin jumps to another galaxy to see if another inhabitable planet can be found. Her mission follows another, led by her father, that departed previously and was never heard from again.

Things cannot be more desperate. Resources are running thin. Earth is doomed. There won’t be another opportunity to use the “jump” technology before the inhabitants of the orbiting space station die.

I’ll say right here that Jumpship Hope is a great ride, because from here on out there are some spoilers. Stop reading this review if you prefer to keep the surprises intact.

Almost immediately upon arriving at their destination, Jumpship Hope is seized by aliens. 

Aliens?! The humans didn’t even know that aliens existed.

The crew is captured and pressed into slavery. The aliens’ primary goal seems to be to force the humans to reveal the “jump” technology so that they can take over Earth, but in the face of slave labor and torture the humans manage to resist.

For how long?

The previous human “jump” expedition was also captured by the aliens, and Janlin is forced to work beneath the woman who took her ex-lover away from her. While trying to come up with a plan of resistance and escape from the aliens, Janlin also tries to find out what happened to her missing father and other members of the previous expedition.

The aliens are not a monolith, however, and soon Janlin finds that there exist other species and divisions within the species that can be exploited, if only she can survive long enough, learn the alien cultures, and sort through the complicated web of spies and betrayals.

All in all Jumpship Hope is a lot of fun. Some of the torture scenes are a little rough; I had to skim a few paragraphs. I wouldn’t recommend this as a YA book. It reminded me quite a bit of a much shorter Battlefield Earth. 

Martians Aboard   by Carrie Vaughn

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Being a teenager is hard. Well, 'hard' is too nice--it all around kind of sucks. Sure, from a physical standpoint most are never healthier than at this stage in your life, though the rapid changes in the body typically makes many unsure of how to use or express their bodies with a healthy does of clumsiness. The real problem is that one enters the purgatory between heaven, enjoying childhood, and hell, the terror that is adulthood. On top of that, teenagers are all shepherded together, hormones raging, with no one knowing what to do--so they just take it all out on the weaker ones. 


If that seems bad, imagine if you had to go through the whole thing on another planet surrounded by strangers.


Polly Newton is a Martian (a human child that was born and raised on Mars). She has a near solitary vision of becoming a starship pilot, allowing her to escape the confines of her home planet that, though it has been colonized for some time, is mostly still Spartan. Polly's mother is the director of the Mars colony that should help aide Polly in achieving her aim. However, her mother, like most parents, wants more for her child and intends to ship Polly and her twin brother, Charles, off to Earth where one of the most prestigious schools in the galaxy resides, the Galileo Academy.


No matter how much Polly protests, her mother doesn't have the faintest notion of giving into her. Charles is the calmer, colder, and more calculating of the two twins. He sees the trip to the school as some sort of game to master. The siblings embark on a slow journey toward Earth that allows them to begin to adjust to the gravity differences while they are introduced to several other children from other extraterrestrial places such as the Moon and various space stations. One of their fellow travelers is Ethan Achebe, an heir to a fortune and someone Polly finds herself attracted to.


On Earth the off-worlders are less than welcomed by their peers or the teaching staff. Not only do they have to deal with kids their own age that are mean to any and everything that has the slightest bit of difference, the crew has to deal with things such a higher gravity and a lack of customs the other kids grew up with. As Polly, Charles, and the rest of the gang attempt to deal with fitting in on a strange new world, odd things begin to happen. First, they start as small failures on assignments that force them to come up with new ways to solve the issues, but these oddities quickly snowball into near fatal struggles where the children must band together and figure out what is happening before one of them dies.


I'm not familiar with any of Vaughn's earlier work so I got to look this over with a fresh set of eyes. With obvious homages to Heinlein abounding everywhere, Martians Abroad is one part coming of age, one part mystery, and one part positive science fiction. The intended readers are young adults and I think it has more than enough appeal for young women and even some young men. The mystery aspect felt a little too "Nancy Drew-ish" at times and there were a few red herrings that were obvious red herrings. It is not going to keep many people guessing but it does help advance the plot and build the coming of age story quite a bit.


The science part was a fresh relief. With a mild Star Trek feel to it, the book takes a positive look at technology and where it can bring us. I feel that the overwhelming majority of recent sci-fi, for both young adults and full-blown adults, tends to lean too much toward dystopia. Sure, utopic thinking and writing make most of sit back and point out how flimsy those houses of cards usually are, but it doesn't mean we have to be all doom and gloom. Vaughn kept the science pretty tight as well and didn't allow any type of technology that it is so advanced it seems like magic sneak in. Instead, the characters had to do things such as spend months adjusting to gravitational differences; space ships didn't fly much faster than they do now; and so forth. There was also a rather touching moment on the flight to Earth where the pilot allowed Polly up on the bridge, something that adults with an eye on mentoring can learn from.


For its target audience, I think the book is pretty much a perfect fit. Adults who aren't finely attuned to YA may see some of the lesson learning a bit heavy handed but get a nice kick out of the Heinlein homages. With mankind's exploration of Mars right around the corner, Martians Abroad is a great book to get younger generations thinking more about it.

Crisis of Control   by Peter J. Scott

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Horror is fun as it gives us a chance to be scared in a controlled manner. In our hunter-gatherer days there were plenty of things to jump out of the dark and get us, less so now. Perhaps this drives us toward scares that our system needs to be running in top gear. Of all the things that go bump in the night or could happen, one of the more frightening things may be looking in the mirror or toward our future. Technology has changed our lives dramatically in the last decade. Mankind is practically a cyborg now with our smartphones being an extension of our selves. However, the next big disruption lie right around the corner with artificial intelligence (AI), and it may not be as helpful.



Roughly a decade into our future, several viruses are ravaging mankind. A small band of survivors are looking for a way to get off world. Those that are left here on Earth turn to AI to seek answers. They quickly find that the AI no more cares about helping them than we care about helping a sick ant. As the characters are left pondering their fate the book abruptly switches from being a novel to non-fiction. Not aware of this going in, I actually found this to be a pleasant surprise. 



At this point, Scott artfully defines what AI is as well as its short, but interesting history up to this point. There is much in the media about AI and has been for some time, especially thanks to sci-fi books and movies. However, most of what we see and hear isn't quite right. Scott breaks down the truth of AI and distills it in a way that is accessible to most readers (though, admittedly, there are still a few things so complex it is difficult to wrap one's mind around). Scott also takes time to weigh the potential downfalls, which tend more toward wiping out jobs--especially in the field of coding versus AI becoming Skynet and killing all of us. (AI can write its own code.) Scott also details all the benefits of AI. 


It is nice for someone to look at the situation with a rational mind as opposed to going into hysterics over whether AI will kill or save us.



Scott tends to point to AI being inevitable in our future. However, he clearly lays out various methods of making it safe and beneficial to society in general. And he bookends his argument by revisiting his fictional characters with a bit more hope than they saw at the beginning of the book.



My bread and butter comes from writing in the Information Technology (IT) field. I can tell you that AI is quickly reaching out through various branches of IT, though it hasn't made much of an impact as far as jobs are concerned; it hasn't made any effort to kill all humans either. But the reduction of jobs will come and soon. When that comes about there won't be humans on the other side of the revolution making a new market (think telephone infrastructure rising up to replace messenger boys). So we will need people like Peter Scott to help us shape the future we are stepping into whether we want to or not.



Crisis Of Control is a book that makes you think, especially late at night when you can't sleep. Scott is excellent at lying down the risks and benefits of AI and how we should attempt to pursue its usage moving forward. The danger is real, so arming oneself with more knowledge of how to potentially mitigate it is always a plus. Buy a copy for yourself and maybe forward one to the guys at Facebook and Google that are playing with fire in a straw house.




Monster Town   by Bruce Golden

Reviewed by William Santorik

If you'd like to travel to a place unlike any you've ever visited, take a trip to Monster Town. It's just around the corner from dark humor, up the road from reality. Bruce Golden's newest book not only isn't like any of his others, and it's not really comparable to any I've read before.


Envision a world where the old movie monsters of black and white horror cinema were actually real people (real monsters?)--actors who played themselves in those films. What if those melodramatic flicks lost their popularity and the monsters had to find other jobs to support themselves? What if they were shunned by their fellow movie-makers and took up residence in a town just outside of Hollywood? In the world Golden has created, all of this has happened to create the setting for Monster Town. But movie monsters aren't the only target of his literary wit (and I use the term "literary" in its most basic form).


Golden has also taken on the genre of the hard-boiled detective story, and the film noir which evolved from it. Monster Town is narrated in first person

by private detective Dirk Slade, and it's in his narration that this story reveals its true self. If you listen carefully, you can hear it in the book's first two lines.


It was a hard wet rain that beat an ominously staccato rhythm on the roof of my Packard as I drove to the outskirts of the city. Thunder rumbled overhead like a bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof, and I imagined the ferocious whipcracks of lightning tearing great rents in time and space.


A "hard wet rain" is the first signal that Golden is going to push the boundaries of that old hard-boiled narration with satire.  A "bowling ball sliding down a corrugated tin roof" is the metaphoric leap past the perimeter of those boundaries, and "ferocious whipcracks of lightning tearing great rents in time and space" warn the reader to expect otherworldly encounters.


The tenor of this tale lies in its subtly satirical presentation, and, of course, its quirky characters. Sure, it's funny to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame tending bar and Frankenstein's monster as a high school football coach, but the way Golden writes it, there's no silliness. He plays the plot straight.


Initially, Slade is hired to find the missing son of the town's wealthiest entrepreneur--one Vladamir Prince. Prince is better known by his cinematic name--Dracula. But Slade's search for the missing teen gets sidetracked when his own best friend, a reporter, is murdered. The quest to find whodunit evolves into much more, including a secret which endangers the life of every citizen in Monster Town. That "danger" is taken right out of today's headlines, but

revealing it here would spoil the intrigue.


Along with the usual suspects one would expect from a monstrous lineup (Wolfman, Leech Woman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), comes the character of Kink. She's a fairy with a tarnished reputation, formerly a star of movies for kids, now ostracized from Hollywood and banished to Monster Town because of a sex scandal. She tags along with her friend Slade on occasion, stealing every scene she's in with her hilarious in-your-face personality.


Humor, however, especially satire, is tricky thing. Sometimes your take on it aligns with the author's, and sometimes you just don't get it. In this particular case, Monster Town worked for me, whether it was the often over-the-top narration or the hard-boiled clichés that were twisted just so.


Night crept over the city like it was slithering out of the grave. The storm had moved on and there was a stillness in the air that wasn’t altogether natural.

But I was in Monster Town, and strange was always on the menu.


Of course, what would a private dick be without a dangerous dame in his life. For Slade it's a torch singer who once was Wasp Woman. He

doesn't totally trust her, but he's smitten just the same.


It wasn't just her appearance that had changed. She came out of that bedroom with a whole different attitude. I could see it on her face—even in the way she carried herself. And a beautiful carriage it was. I watched her go to her kitchenette, thinking one thing hadn't changed. She was still wearing that body to die for. However, I wasn't ready for a cold slab in the morgue just yet.


Like any good gumshoe, Slade always has a snappy comeback to pull out of his trench coat.


When I got close, a couple of ragged-looking young toughs moved in front of me. One of them pulled a knife and said, "One more step and I'll stick you like a pig, then gut you like a fish."


"Make up your mind," I replied. "Am I pork or the catch of the day?"


The reason I believe this brand of satire works so well, is that the author doesn't do it so much with a sneer, as he does it with a tip of the fedora. He's not belittling these genres as much as he is paying them homage. My only complaint with the book is that it's too short. I wanted more.


Monster Town is fast-moving, full of brutish thugs and femme fatales, and funny in a way that may not have you laughing out loud, but will leave your inner self chuckling all the way to the last page. And, as Dirk Slade was often heard to say, that's jake with me. 



William Santorik has been a journalist for more than two decades, writing reviews for books, plays, films, and television, as well as other journalistic endeavors.

Shattered Fates   by Rebecca Roland

Reviewed by Adria Laycraft

If you are loving the renewed discussion on the importance of strong female leads thanks to the new Wonder Woman movie, you might want to consider reading Rebecca Roland's Shards of History books. Published by World Weaver Press, Shattered Fates is the conclusion of a three-book series, and has not one but two powerful female leaders as primary characters. Not only do we see this leadership in a matriarchal culture, where we expect it, we see it in an oppressive one too, and watch all the drama that comes with standing up and demanding change.


While one could wish the messages of decency and equality weren't so needed, unfortunately they are - perhaps more than ever today. Thank Goodness we have authors like Roland to bring us these themes through an engaging story, where current issues are expressed in strange lands by strange people.


"The dragons were listening." 


Dragons are always a perfect addition to any fantasy series, and I enjoy how they are a vital part of the story without being the entire story. I especially love the message that we are all one, all linked, and all deserving respect. The real message of Shattered Fates is how optimal it can be to work with others instead of trying to control them; of choosing communication over domination.


The basis of the story is a war between the patriarchal Maddion and the matriarchal society, the Taakwa. The Maddion are dragon-riding and bloodthirsty. But underneath, they are a society divided. Chanwa, wife of the Maddion leader, is plotting a coup to give Maddion women the place in society she thinks they deserve.


Laced with inventive world-building, lovable characters, quick-paced action, and incredible magic systems, Shattered Fates is a timely tale of the horrid sacrifices and effort often demanded both when you stand up for what's right, and when you are forced to protect your own.


Roland has an understanding of the issues victims of abuse face, and helps the reader understand how difficult it can be to make any changes at all. She portrays toxic behavior in a way that can bring vital understanding home to those who may not recognize it when they see it in the real world. The characters act out so many issues we face today, and they do it in a safe fantasy world to (hopefully) allow us to see it without bias. 


"You'll drown in him." 


The magic systems are amazingly unique and fascinating, especially because of the way the characters learn as they go how their magic works when joined with another's. Roland went the extra mile in developing her world's magic systems, inventing overlapping cultures each with their own special talents that were all necessary and important to the story's plot line.


Roland also does a wonderful job of using foreshadowing to bring us a few delightful plot twists that still resonated and made perfect sense. Shattered Fates is an engaging read, pulling us along through rising tension and increasing odds to a breathtaking ending. It's also nice to see a 'happily ever after' that doesn't feel cheesy at all, but instead warms the heart.


I highly recommend Shattered Fates and the two preceding books in the series (Shards of History Volumes I and II), especially for those seeking a fantastical view of what hope could look like for our world today.




Willful Child: Wrath of Betty  by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Sci-Fi typically takes one of two roads when painting a picture of the future: everything has rapidly advanced for the overall betterment and a crisis arises or everything has fallen apart and some crisis arises. But what if we took humanity as it is now (hiding behind screens to lob horrible insults at one another that we would never issue face to face, aligning ourselves with political identities in all regards, an obsession with the trivial and banal... I could go on and on.) and give them the advanced technology one would find in the Star Trek universe. It would be messy and unusual, but entertaining.


Captain Hadrian Sawback, handsome, dashing, young, and all too full of himself, is still holding the reins of the spaceship Willful Child. However his mad antics—which closely align with the same shenanigans that Captain Kirk got up to in the original run of Star Trek—are making the rest of the Federation angry. Not only are these stunts ridiculous and dangerous, Sawback keeps winning--making them look bad. No one hates Sawback more than Captain Hans Solo, the second youngest captain, who feels that the glory should be his. The Federation determines to work with Captain Solo to follow Sawback, wait until his urge to do something brave and stupid kicks in, and then sabotage him.


The adventures that Sawback goes on come rapid fire and hit just about every sci-fi cliché that comes to mind. These include entering a parallel universe where women are the dominate gender, going back in time, and heading to a planet of robots (a planet similar to a deserted Walmart trying to sell everyone something). At the center of all of these actions are the Captain, he essential crew, and the ships AI in the form of a chicken, Tammy Wynette.


Though I read and enjoyed the first book quite a bit, I'm a bit more conflicted about this one. The pacing was a bit choppy, but that was no different than the first, and it fit in with the "episodic" nature of the adventures. I guess I felt that Erikson didn't balance out the action and comedy as well here. The entire thing felt like it was rushing from one episode to the next to the point it became nauseating. I felt that he could have easily made this book nearly twice as long by focusing on one set of events as opposed to dropping one after the next in the readers' laps.


That not to say it was all bad, far from it. Erikson is good at making points wrapped in action and comedy. And as sexist and bigoted as Sawback can be at times, he, like Captain Kirk in the 60's, makes very good points. I especially liked how the book pointed out how science fiction culture as been appropriated by movie studios and corporations to turn both loyal fans as well as masses of others into customers (this can clearly be seen through "nerd" culture and the "science is awesome" types that have little knowledge of basic science or about the characters they care so much about, they just want to buy more movie tickets). Erikson seems to hit a nerve when he poked fun at the two major political parties in the U.S. While he took it to an extreme (and it was very funny in my opinion on both sides) the hyper-partisan times we live in seems to have brewed up a handful of negative reviews on that one issue. My advice: don't let that that stop you from reading it and learn to laugh at yourself some.


He also once again touched on consumerism and its overwhelming presence in our current society. This was a good point and had plenty of humor, but felt a bit too heavy handed. It had a Wall-E feel to it. I think sometimes messages can just be so heavy they weigh down the narrative and did so in this case.


Overall, Willful Child was funny and a fairly quick read. I think picking it up, and the first book, is worth the time. If you aren't aware of some real nerd culture you'll miss a lot of the jokes, which is unfortunate. But if the original Star Trek holds a special place in your heart and you can take a joke, by all means read it. If this isn't you but sounds like someone you know, get it for them.

28 Minutes into the Future / Anthology  by Chrome Oxide

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

If you can imagine Ayn Rand writing humor, then you would be about halfway there. If you can then imagine Rand writing humorous short fiction (quite a stretch given that John Gault’s famous speech in Atlas Shrugged ran 60 pages), then you would have arrived at the world of Chrome Oxide, the funniest, most poignant satirist I have read in ages.

28 Minutes into the Future is Chrome’s first book, a collection of nine hilarious, subversive tales of an earth we know, but not quite as we know it. It’s earth just a little bit askew with fantasy or sci-fi elements (depending on the story), but definitely recognizable to those people willing to look up from their political marching orders.

My personal favorite was “Vampire Free Zone.” Told from a Vampire’s point of view, the story shows the absurdity behind “gun free zones” on college campuses and the like. The vampire walks into a blood bank where a sign reading “Vampire Free Zone” hangs, along with a smaller sign reading “Gun Free Zone.”

“I stopped in to ask about the signs in the window?” asks the vampire.

[The receptionist] replies, “You’re not the first to ask. Rand told me he hung the vampire sign when he started the blood bank six years ago. I thought that because his sign worked to keep away vampires, I’d put up a sign to keep away guns.”

With a strong predilection for libertarianism, Chrome Oxide’s fiction reflects for us the tyrannies of everyday life. It’s tough to be a free spirit when laws in the California Republic of Autonomous People are enforced by the dreaded Amalgamated Security Services.

In the real California, our governor has been doing a victory tour for reducing the crime rate, when said crime rate has gone down because proposition 47 has required misdemeanor sentencing to replace felony sentencing for myriad crimes, including such minor offenses as grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, and more, as long as the dollar amount of stolen goods does not exceed $950.

So when Brother Ruger of the Church of the Second Right (“Election Day Murders”) says, “Just like the government lowered the high unemployment numbers by not counting jobless people, they recently reduced the crime rate by requiring victims to file the correct forms with the correct departments and to pay the correct processing fees,” it has the ring of truth.

In fact, more like a veritas gong.

“Who would have ever guessed that murder victims don’t report their demise,” quips the protagonist.

28 Minutes into the Future is a slim book, 112 pages, with nine stories in it. “Cop for a Day,” the opening story, previously appeared in the excellent anthology Writers of the Future XXiX. Most of the other eight stories have never been published.

Every one of the stories had me smiling, and some had me laughing out loud. At the same time, each story had me shaking my head at how close to the mark they are. I highly recommend pick it up, so that the next time someone from the Department of Places Where Historical Persons May Have Visited (“Gateway”) declares your outhouse a historical landmark, you’ll know what to do.

28 Minutes into the Future is a funny, refreshing break from the entertainment culture’s quasi-ubiquitous political correctness. It takes courage to write such a ‘subversive’ view, and courage to publish it. Bravo to Chrome Oxide for being willing to reveal his non-conformist ideas, and to Superversive Press for publishing it.

The Hike  by Drew Magary

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

There are moments in our life where we just want to get away from it all, if only for a little bit. Whether it be work getting us down because the boss overlooks our potential because of a tiny mistake, or because of a family life where everyone seems to be demanding our attention to address ten things at once, sometimes we just want to get a few moments alone in silence, maybe go for a walk, or a hike. A hike would be great, unless you get trapped in it forever.

 

Ben is the typical family man. He goes on largely uneventful business trips a few times a year as a large portion of us all do. He has a wife and kids he loves and the usual problems we all face: bills, the kids' health, stress from work and the like. The only thing that really sets Ben apart is a large scar that runs down the side of his face from a dog attack when he was a child. Getting away from everything in life sounds good at first, but after a flight, Ben finds himself in a strange hotel room with the sights and sounds he's grown accustomed to missing. Ben could hit the gym, or the mini bar, but instead he has picked up the habit of taking walks. Since there is a path through the woods he decides on a nice hike before getting down to business.

 

The hike starts off normal enough. Ben takes in the different scenery and smoothly moves along until he comes across what appears to be a gristly murder still in progress. The men carrying out the murder are wearing the cut-off faces of dogs like masks. Worse yet, they see Ben and begin to chase him. Ben barely makes it away from them before coming onto something much stranger: a little old woman that promises to help him if he does chores around her house. From this point on Ben finds himself on a strange journey where he must stay on a path that leads to something that could very well be his death. Along the way he encounters a sarcastic and curmudgeonly talking crab, a man eating giant, a series of strange demon monsters wanting him to do their bidding, as well as a fourteenth century Spanish explorer.

 

The author Drew Magary walks a fine line with this book. He lets the reader put their toes in the water of fantasy while managing to keep the rest of them planted in more realistic fiction, a higher level of absurdness with a foundation grounded in reality. Ben's journey at times can be heart wrenching and even suffocating, then Magary injects the book with enough humor and silliness to raise the spirits of the reader while keeping Ben out of sorts and confused.  Another gamble I saw here was centering a book on a lone character for the majority versus having some fort of foil present. I felt the sole man on a quest worked well in The Hike, as we are presented with a few companions and adversaries throughout as well as the setting being in a constant state of flux.

 

While a broad audience can enjoy this book with its strong writing, humor, character development, and enough zaniness to keep just about anyone entertained, I think there is a subset of readers that will particularly find The Hike appealing. I was reading The Hike on a business trip in China where a short walk turned into a 4-hour trek that almost got me hit by a bus and a near miss of either getting beat-up by, or arrested by, a cop. Several other business travelers have told me similar stories of being a bit bored or adventurous, and having a small side trip take on a radically different feel faster than they expected.

 

The Hike will keep you reading, make you laugh, and make you sad to see it come to an end. Magary does a good job of going in multiple directions that all seem correct and then pulling it all together for an extremely satisfying ending. Buy a copy for yourself and then a copy for anyone you know that is about to go on a boring, standard business trip.

Girls' Adventure Stories of Long Ago  Poetry by Viki Holmes

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

It seems appropriate to review a poetry collection in NewMyths since Duotrope has named us one of the top online markets for speculative poetry. I’d like to start with a remarkable book from Hong Kong-based writer Viki Holmes.

The first thing you will probably notice about the book is the cover, repurposed from a poster for Girls, a comedy by playwright Clyde Fitch. Apparently the plot of Fitch’s sex comedy involves women forming a “man hater’s club.” It was made into a movie in 1919, but is assumed to be a “lost film” as no copies of it remain to anyone’s knowledge. The plot sounds like an absolute riot, but nothing to do with Holmes’ Girls’ Adventure Stories of Long Ago so far as I can tell. In any case, our book benefits from the beautiful and evocative artwork.

Girls’ Adventure Stories is divided into twelve Chapters. Chapter the First is titled In which our heroine wakes in the ordinary world, and surrounds herself with stories. Right away we expect the writing to be aloof but stirring, the poet informed in craft and motivated by inspiration. 

Here I run into a problem with reviewing poetry. I really want to give you examples of the at-times mesmerizing language, but to copy much is to risk infringing on copyright. Let me put down only the opening lines of “Mnemosyne wakes” to give you a taste of what you’ll find inside Girls’ Adventure Stories:


Wrapped in red brocade, she pushes aside the stray hairs of the morning. Across the street, blue sparks from a welder’s fire, images cast on the ceiling of the sky.

And so the story begins. Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of memory, and also the mother to the muses. Appropriate, being as one’s muse is linked or crafted by our experiences through  the transformative agent of memory.

The opening poems are narrative poems. Others are more traditionally formatted, while still others use shape to nice effect. “Duty-Free,” for example, is presented in the shape of an airplane. All are written in free verse rather than using fixed rhythm and meter. 

While its Amazon description states that the book is inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, Holmes’ collection reads as more autobiographical than mythical. Or rather, it reads as autobiography driven through and shaped by a tunnel of myths and legends, British, European, and Asian. Much as the British author herself, now a resident of Hong Kong, has been shaped by those three great civilizations. For example, the third poem wears the same title as the book, and recites mini-adventures from nine different women, representative of a diversity of life experiences, before landing on the tenth woman, Viki (the author’s name), who gets a whole series of mini-adventures. The poem ends with:

she still believed everything she read in books.

The collection’s twelve chapters do follow the outline in Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey.” Chapters progress from In which our heroine is ready to begin her journey and crosses over into new worlds, through In which our heroine must decide whether to return home or commit to a higher purpose, to finally In which our heroine returns home with the elixir of knowledge.

With the craft and care that Viki Holmes has put into her Hero’s Journey, Girls’ Adventure Stories of Long Ago is a voyage you will want to share. Let us hope Viki Holmes still does believe everything she reads in books.


Three Wells of the Sea by Terry Madden

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Three Wells of the Sea is a thoroughly enjoyable Celtic fantasy. There are druids and kings, mistresses and magic, betrayals, reversals and surprises galore. In tone it reminds me of Tad Williams To Green Angel Tower, though Three Wells is shorter by several hundred pages. (I'm not entirely sure why Terry Madden's book reminds me of Tad Williams's opus, but I can't get the comparison out of my mind.)


Madden's story begins in our modern world with a young man, Connor, about to be punished by the principal of his school. He is "rescued" by the intervention of his English teacher, Dish. Connor isn't particularly happy with this turn of events, as his dearest wish is to be kicked out of boarding school. 


Given the teacher's apparent interest in the troubled student, the principal puts Connor under Dish's supervision. Dish is coach of the track team, and so Connor has to start running. Literally. Connor finds that running gives him something to strive for, and his attitude begins to improve. (This was a relief, as I wasn't thrilled with the idea of spending an entire novel with a whiner.) But their relationship isn't that simple. Dish has some sort of connection with another realm. A magical Celtic realm, located beyond certain magical waters.

Whether or not Dish is entirely aware of his connection with this other realm we aren't quite sure, but he certainly isn't eager to bring Connor into his adventures (hallucinations?).


One of the things I found most enjoyable here—and I think you will, too—is that the characters frequently misunderstand each other. They often ascribe to each other incorrect motivation and falsely assign blame. Their collisions and conflict are occasionally avoidable, if only they could see the overall story as clearly as the reader. They almost feel human in this respect. 


I should also mention that many of the characters are deceitful. Lies and double-crosses become unmasked as the plot unfolds, often too late for the "hero" characters to do anything about them.


The reader, too, remains a couple of steps behind in understanding, giving us a delectable sense of surprise. 


Or dismay.


To me, this all shows that Three Wells of the Sea is both a character-driven and plot-driven story. 


Shortly after our introduction to Dish and Connor in this world, we are treated with a look into the magical realm of druids and kings, where a woman named Ava just managed to have herself declared Queen of the land. On the run, the druid Lyleth refuses to accept the queen, and forms a dangerous and unlikely plan—to resurrect the former king to wage war on Queen Ava.


Naturally she is pursued.


The druid Lyleth succeeds—partly. The newly-resurrected king doesn't have the markings of leadership, tattoos that he wore in life. Without these marks of approval from the spirits, can he succeed in gaining the loyalty of the clans? Is he even the rightful king at all?


The druid Lyleth isn't sure.


The two worlds, modern and mythical Celtic, overlap through magical "wells" or bodies of water. I will leave the discovery of that, and its significance, to your reading.


Three Wells is part of a series but if you are impatient, never fear, it comes to a satisfying conclusion all its own. According to the blurb, the next installment in the series begins six years later.


Overall, I enthusiastically endorse this book as a worthy addition to Celtic cannon. If you are a fan of Celtic literature, or have fond memories of To Green Angel Tower in particular, pick up Three Wells of the Sea as fast as you can.

Fragment  A Novel by Craig Russell

Reviewed by Adria Laycraft

Imagine introducing a new sentient race to the world. Imagine climate change alarmist stories coming true right before your eyes. Imagine how much good can be done in an emergency by a small group of like-minded people. Put all that together with interesting and relevant science, and you have Fragment. Written by Canadian author Craig Russell, the book opens with a straightforward explanation of the heat of fusion, revealing why ice is such resilient stuff even in the face of temperatures above freezing. 


"Consider the nature of ice," Russell writes. "The heat of fusion is one of its mysteries." In one page, the first page, Russell captures the reader's interest and launches them into an adventure full of unexpected turns and fascinating science. Oh, and throw in a cruise ship, a nuclear sub, a small sailboat, and a lonely whale for good measure.


Fragment is a string of all-too-plausible events that were obviously well-researched. While a journalist in America interviews a scientist live in Antarctica, the Antarctic Ross Sea Ice Shelf is shoved free of the continent. In a perfect storm of conditions, a 'berg half the size of Kentucky is created. No one can predict where the behemoth will strike land, and debates begin immediately over possibilities. 


Three glaciers travel on the back of the ice sheet, and as Russell illustrates, fetch (the distance available for the waves to build on open water) is infinite in the Drake Passage, causing the ice shelf to gain momentum. Most people predictably deny there's much danger, and the POTUS puts his main man to work spinning events in a favourable light. But lives and homes are at risk, and when a mismatched team of believers try to get the word out, help comes from the most unexpected places. 


The intriguing asides regarding the science at hand enhance the story and reveal just how plausible this near-future science fiction story really is, while also adding imagery to the events around them. "There are a variety of physical factors that affect the Fragment," Russell writes in one interposition. "The first is gravity. Because of its size it's not really a flat object at all. It actually curves across the surface of the earth, like the last piece of skin to be peeled off an orange." 


Russell leads us on a thoughtful and daring undertaking that captures global issues and weaves them into a personable story of real humans doing the best they can with what they have... and surprising themselves in the process. This novel also celebrates the spirit of chasing an idea against all rules and skepticism standing in the way, and how that can often lead to the biggest discoveries of all. 


Released on October 1, 2016, Fragment follows Russell's Black Bottle Man, which won the 2011 American Moonbeam Award gold medal for Young Adult Fantasy and was a finalist for the Canadian Prix Aurora Awards and two Manitoba book awards.


Horseshoes, Hand Grenades and Magic  Edited by Manny Frishberg

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Contributors: Leah Cutter, G. David Nordley, Blaze Ward, Irene Radford, Frog & Esther Jones, Bob Brown, Voss Foster, SB Sebrick, Sanan Kolva, Manny Frishberg, and Bruce Taylor


Almost is a double-edged sword. There are times where almost can be just as good as what you were after. For instance, if you wanted to become a millionaire and were a few dollars short, you would most likely still be pretty happy. However, with the 2016 Olympics currently going on, if you trained your whole life and took fourth place in a sport, almost wouldn’t cut it. The best beats good enough every time. Still, life is a series of compromises. And while we don’t always get what we want, we are more than happy to settle for close enough in most cases. 


Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, And Magic is a small collection of eleven stories that deal with being close enough, and most of the stories have at least one of the items listed in the title. The stories range from dogs that make sure important magic babies are born. Bigfoot revealing himself only to tell the world that it is in imminent danger and only he can save us, maybe. An elf that was cursed with a werespider body finds magic that will change him into…something better. Two students travel through time to prove one another wrong about a theory. A thief unwittingly saves a king from an assassin to become a hero. A space fighter leads his fleet into what he believes may be victory. And a bad wizard uses the wrong spell to turn his friend into the desire of all the females in town; the only problem is the females are not human.


This was a strange collection in general. It was theme-based and therefore mixed up several genres, jumping from one to the next. While this was a bit jarring it was also refreshing. Sometimes one wants to have a little taste of everything on the menu and that isn’t always possible with any given collection or magazine. 


While some stories were definitely stronger and resonated more than others, none of the eleven stunk out loud (though a couple of stories I had to reread before starting the review; not poorly written, just not terribly memorable). I found “What Dreams May Go” to be the best overall, though it was the least speculative and arguably the most literary story in the bunch. One story that stuck in my head was “Feet Of Clay.” While reading it I didn’t think I was going to like it but found that the imagery within isn’t something easily forgotten. 


There were a few funny stories contained herein as well. “The Off Switch” is an abnormal bigfoot/first contact story with a few good laughs as well as something to think about. And “One-Horse Wonder” was chock full of laughs in a misadventure of two anti-heroes that are trying to get something to eat and some money and aren’t really interested in saving the day. The story also uses magic to turn the Harem fantasy of men on its head. 


The collection is worth a read. While there are no super well-known authors here there is a chance to get to know some new ones. A few stories within this collection deserve a few rereads as they are well written and much fun. Others are more nuanced and allow the reader to catch new insights the second time through. And while tongue wasn’t firmly in cheek in this collection, there are a few authors that took that fantasy genre (a genre I feel takes itself too seriously at times) and had a lot of fun with it. 


So pick it up and read it from cover to cover. Or just read the good stories, almost is good enough in most cases. 



A Witch's Kitchen  by Dianna Sanchez

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Fantasy has a fine tradition of humorous literature. Among the giants of the field, Robert Aspirin, Terry Pratchet and Craig Shaw Gardner come immediately to mind. There is something about the fantasy genre that lends itself to farce, satire, parody, joke-telling, in fact, all types and blends of humor--perhaps because of the stereotypical characters, perhaps the black-and-white of many of the plots, perhaps the fact that anything at all is possible. 


A Witch's Kitchen by Dianna Sanchez is a worthy addition to the cannon. I would like to note, with more than a touch of pride, that you all know Dianna Sanchez by the name of Jenise Aminoff, as she is a past editor of New Myths. (See Issue 29.) 


The plot revolves around Ludmilla's (Millie's) attempts to find herself. Poor Millie just isn't cutting it as a witch. While her cooking is to die for, her potions might actually get someone killed. Her mother, witch-extraordinaire Bogdana, has does her best to guide her in the right direction, but Millie's imagination keeps zinging back to food and her concoctions go awry. (A terrible curse turning into delicious chocolate, for example.) She hasn't even earned her witch's hat.


Everyone has given up hope on Millie, everyone from her mother to Millie herself. 


Cooking is the one thing I'm good at, Millie pines to herself. Why can't I just do that?


But lo, in a meeting with the powerful Baba Luci, the Baba offers to send Millie as the witch's representative to the Enchanted Forest School as a sort of goodwill gesture to the Enchanted Forest Council. To the skepticism of most and the derision of a few, Millie accepts the assignment.


Enchanted Forest School (EFS) has denizens from virtually all the forest people—goblins, pixies, fairies, gnomes, imps… It's basically the fantasy version of the Chalmun's Cantina from Star Wars.


While we have seen the hodgepodge of otherworldly creature settings plenty of times before, Enchanted Forest School offers up some deliciously funny surprises. For example, the School itself is a sentient tree. 


The first couple of chapters in EFS recall a humorous version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, though I'm not sure whether this borrows from that or much older literature. Youths going to school to learn to use magic has a long tradition, it's just that Harry Potter made readers more universally aware of the tradition nowadays. So the basic premise won't win points for originality, but the strength here is on the author's interpretation of the trope. I for one was very fond of it.


A Witch's Kitchen chronicles Millie's adventures trying to discover who she really is and what her various skills can add up to. Along the way we get lots of humor, some adventure, some danger, and a nice peek into ourselves and what we may be missing that is right under our noses.


It's hard to review a humorous book in a basically humorless review, but take my word for it, this will give you plenty of laughs and some intellectual manna to chew on as well. I for one really enjoyed A Witch's Kitchen and I think you will too.



Departure  by A. G. Riddle

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

My entire life I’ve had an unexplained fear of airplanes. To be more specific, I have had reoccurring dreams of being in a plane crash and possibly not surviving with all the burning and the explosions and screaming. I find that I am getting on planes more and more the older I get and even though I’m told “flying is the safest way to fly” (I was told this by several different people before taking a transcontinental flight that made two emergency landings, though I think the safest way to travel may still be in an elevator), it still makes me clench when I take off and land. Though I know this is a common fear, reading books about plane crashes while riding on a plane is less common. Reading a book about a plane crash where the few survivors face even more horrors is something most fliers should avoid--unless they really want to find something interesting.


A routine flight from New York to London is about to have some problems and not just from the unruly passenger in first class that has been hitting the overpriced booze a litter too hard. The boozehound is making it difficult for everyone in the cabin including writer, Harper Lane, and the mysterious yet handsome Nick Stone. Nick intervenes, saving everyone from what could potentially be a very ugly scene. As he settles in and attempts to introduce himself to Harper, the plane tears itself apart.


The plane crashes in the remote English countryside. And by remote I mean so far from civilization that there are no lights, no people, and no cell service. The few survivors (which include our protagonists, Nick and Harper) have to launch a daring rescue of the others trapped on one half of the plane that is sinking in a lake. After lives are saved, the group has to start wondering why no search parties have come looking for them hours later. And why in modern times are they in a place with absolutely no cellular service. What’s generally thought of as a “first world problem” takes on a different meaning when people are bleeding to death and society has lost so many skills.


Why learn something when you could always just look it up on your phone on a Google or YouTube search?


If things didn’t seem bad enough, something strange is going on with two of the survivors. One is a computer scientist, Yul Tan, that despite everything happening won’t stop his work. And a genetic researcher, Sabrina Schröder, seems to know something about what is happening--and seems to have some sort of previous relationship with Tan. 


Nick takes a group out scouting. If civilization won’t come to them, he figures he’ll go to civilization. But Nick and the group stumble upon something that throws everything they thought out the window. And someone finally comes looking for the crash. But they’re not here to help. They set everything in motion to either save the world, or end it.


The first chunk of the novel starts of strong. Though I’m not crazy about plane crashes it is always good to read about people living through it and even making something of it. The mystery of what is happening after the crash really grips the reader. It’s like a Lovecraft story or Shirley Jackson novel where the true horrors (or the main events) are off stage leaving the reader to develop thousands of possible reasons for what is happening. However, no matter how fascinating the wizard, we eventually have to look behind the curtain. 


Riddle developed a multi-layered explanation as to what is happening with heaving helpings of greed, scientific advancement, and politically maneuvering. And though he did a good job laying all of this out, it still felt lacking. The technology wasn’t really anything new, it even had a few nods to the big three in Sci-fi. The story was well written and well paced. But what could have been was so much more fascinating than what actually happened. That’s not to say the story wasn’t satisfying, though it did make me think of the 1989 film Millennium. For those of you that remember that awful thing, the book wasn’t terrible like the film, it just has a few elements that make me think the author may have seen it, or was in a room once while it was on in the background.


The characters were an interesting choice as well. The characters start off rather bland with the hints of cliché nipping on the edges. But after the plane crashes we see a slightly different side that endears us to the protagonists. And when the antagonists are finally reveled in the third act, it truly was something no one would have expected. 


Departure is an intriguing book even if it doesn’t fully live up to the grand story the first half sets up. Grab a copy and take it with you on your next flight to stay…distracted.

Bite Somebody  by Sara Dobie Bauer

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Ever wondered what happened to chick lit?


It died.


And came back to life.


As a vampire.



Danny lied to Celia Merkin. He told her he’d make her perfect. (Spoiler alert.) He then bit her and turned her into a vampire. But the chubby Celia discovers that her insecurities don’t disappear when she becomes a vampire. She doesn’t instantly develop Cameron Diaz legs, or Electra’s fighting ability, or James Bond’s confidence.


In fact, she’s pretty much the same girl as before, except if the sun gets a look at her she’ll burst into flame, she can only feed off of blood, and she gets a dose of super strength--without any increase in endurance.


Celia’s chief insecurity involves men. She can hardly imagine that a man would be interested in her. The only men she’s ever known either ditched her in the morning, or turned her into the undead and then ditched her in the morning. Not much of a confidence builder. She’s seeing a vampire shrink for her problems.


“Danny said becoming a vampire would make me more special,” she complains to Doctor Savage.


Dr. Savage’s voice went all sing-song. “You are special. We’re all special.”


Two things happen. First, she meets an experienced, party-girl vampire named Imogen. Next, she meets her delicious-smelling, former surfer turned bicycle racer named Ian. Together they rock Celia’s world.


Despite, or perhaps because of being near perfect in every way, Ian seems to be falling for Celia’s down-home innocence. He calls her beautiful. He asks her out on dates. He gets into watching Pretty Woman on VHS tape with her.


Seeing the attraction (which Celia can’t believe is genuine), Imogen sets out to get Celia laid.


Err, I mean Imogen becomes a mentor figure to our hero.


It turns out that while vampires can’t eat food, they can enjoy alcoholic beverages, weed, and other mind-alternating substances of dubious origin. They frequent night clubs, and with their glamouring ability successfully feed off their more-than-willing victims. Celia has far too many scruples for glamouring anyone, but she does enjoy loosening up a bit with weed and alcohol.


Together, Imogen and Ian, with a little help from the shrink, begin to restore Celia’s confidence.


Of course, when things are getting too good to be true the vampire who first turned Celia turns up to throw a monkey wrench into everyone’s plans.


This book is absolutely hilarious. You will cheer Imogen on with her quest to empower her friend to experience her first-ever orgasm. The setting, somewhere just off the mythical Spring Break land on the Gulf of Mexico, is perfect for this light paranormal rom-com.

By having the hero reading Twilight to seek out information on vampire culture, Bite Somebody gives a nod to the most widely read of this genre, but I’d say that the book has more in common with Legally Blond or Shopaholic than Stephanie Meyers’ opus. It is definitely a 20-something book, deeply instilled with Cosmo-style values.


At times as I was reading I thought Bite Somebody might have something profound to say about life in general. Most of the time I didn’t really care. I went along for its hilarious—and touching--ride.


Abomination  by Gary Whitta

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

To paraphrase Clive Barker (back when his writing wasn’t the terrible mess it is now), monsters are more interesting when they come from within. Defeating the outside, the aliens, is tired and trite. But to battle the monsters within us, that is something interesting. That’s all well and good. Though we all do battle with our inner monsters, some monsters are too big to defeat and we just have to live with the horrors they do to those we love.


It is the dark ages and England is fending off a seemingly never-ending barrage of Vikings. Alfred the Great is young, weary, and growing desperate. By chance someone stumbled on ancient Latin scrolls so old they may be from the beginning of the Roman rule. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Aethelred, spends months deciphering the scrolls and finds a secret that may turn the battle to England’s favor. Aethelred wants to hold court with the king; Alfred only agrees because he thinks the man is a fool and he wants a reason to remove him. But when Aethelred releases the power of the scrolls and turns a pig into a horrible twisted monster, Alfred feels two things: revulsion and hope.


Alfred saw the power in the beast and how long it took his men to put it down and how many lives were lost fighting it. Creatures like this could turn the tide in his war with the Vikings. Aethelred admits he has little to no control over the monsters--but he is still learning. The king grants the archbishop time to work out the kinks in the incantations and make a suitable army of monsters. Alfred couldn’t see what was coming next. 


Months pass and Aethelred once again wants to show his progress to the king. If the first display was unnerving, this one was down right horrific. Aethelred has found a way to control the beasts. Instead of using animals he uses men. 


Alfred orders Aethelred imprisoned and the scrolls to be destroyed. Aethelred begs for more time to perfect his magic. He asks to be given time to learn how to turn the men back into humans. Alfred wants nothing more than to put these horrors behind him. The only thing he doesn’t think of is what Aethelred can do to the men who are supposed to guard him.


Now Aethelred is building an army of abominations and Alfred has to reach out to his friend and one of the best knights England as even seen, Sir Wulfric. Wulfric has given up the sword and now lives a life of peace with his wife. But a promise to Alfred brings him back to war, this time against monstrosities. Wulfric brings forth a campaign that quickly crushes the monsters but he suffers a defeat as well. Fifteen years pass and now a young woman, Indra, hunts down the final abomination. Only this last beast holds a secret that could end everything.


If the name Gary Whitta rings any bells it is because he wrote The Book Of Eli, After Earth, and was one of the writers behind The Walking Dead video games. Screenwriters are a little different than novelists. Their main job is to tell. They can’t really show because everyone working on the movie has to know what they are working with and it is the actors' and director's job to show. There is definitely some of that "telling" bleeding over into his fiction. While it doesn’t make the writing terrible it is a bit distracting as you go.


Another thing that Hollywood (and I assume screenwriters) is getting increasingly terrible about is origin stories/explaining how everything came to be. Not only do we have to know every aspect of certain characters, we also have to be beaten over the head with exposition. This was the only aspect of Whitta’s writing I really disliked. There was a tsunami of exposition every time a new character showed up. We even got a little backstory on some characters that were only in a scene or two in the background. Philip Marlowe is a literary icon, and still we only have a vague idea about his past and what made him the man he is. We could use more Philip Marlowe in the media we consume and less characters like Spiderman where we know almost everything about their lives.


The novel goes in one direction for the first hundred pages before abruptly changing direction and becoming a different type of story altogether. While at first I found this a bit jarring, I started to see the benefit in shaking things up a bit from the norm. Not to mention the originally story was running out of steam before the directional shift. The second part of the book switched from the chest thumping slaughter to an introspective search for meaning for both the protagonists. It also tied back together a few threads that were lain out at the beginning.


The book has something for everyone, though a bit much in parts. It wasn’t the most original story ever written but it was much better than 95 percent of the movies made now. Perhaps Mr. Whitta has found a calling where original ideas are still sought after and treasured. 

Unforgettable  by Eric James Stone

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

I have been following Eric James Stone since his collection of short stories Rejiggering  the Thingamajig appeared in 2011. And so I was very excited when I learned he was about to release his first novel, Unforgettable, from Baen Science Fiction.


As in much of Stone's work, the premise here is unique and thought-provoking. Nat Morgan is a CIA field agent with a special talent:  No one can remember him if he disappears from their perception for more than a minute. Even computers and other digital devices "forget" that Nat exists after a minute.


The story is a sort of near-future science fiction thriller. As in many such tales, two stories are developed in parallel:  the action story and the love story. Both of these plots come together in a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.


Rather than being some sort of magical gimmick—which would have been perfectly acceptable to me—Stone came up with a quantum explanation for Nat's unique talent. After explaining the talent, Stone then went a lot further, integrating quantum theory and the idea of "selecting" between alternate universes as the entire premise of the novel.


Essentially, the bad guy, one Kazem Jamshidi, with the unwilling help of a kidnapped scientist, develops a supercomputer that can consciously select between alternate universes. Since these parallel universes are essentially infinite, this computer can "choose" its own future--a future in which Kazen Jamshidi is ruler absolute.


The hero, Nat Morgan, is a quantum anomaly. Once Nat leaves the room, the universe somehow "selects" a reality in which Nat did not exist. He is forgotten. Nevertheless, the results of his actions remain, somehow "remembered" as events achieved through other means.


Confusing?


Stone is a master of explaining the unexplainable, not to mention the inexplicable. You will be as fascinated by the quantum mechanics of it all as you are with the story.


Due to his unique power, Nat may be the only person capable of stopping Jamshidi

However, think about this for a minute. If no one could remember you after you left the room, how would you ever develop relationships? Friends? Romance?


Nat's life is one of constant loneliness. Not that he dwells on it; he's rather a jovial chap. But it's there, beneath the surface. (I'm a little reminded of James Bond's pain, as played by Daniel Craig in his best moments, though Nat is no action hero.)


Until one day Nat becomes "entangled" (a quantum term) with a Russian spy who may or may not have gone freelance. Naturally, Nat falls in love. 


But can he trust her?


The conclusion has many twists and turns, the tension ratchets up, and every obstacle you think you saw coming gets doubled in the process. 


I can hardly recommend this book enough. If you have given any thought to reading a science fiction book, pick up Unforgettable. You won't regret it. 


Inherit the Stars  by Tony Peak

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

In the opening to Inherit the Stars, we learn that the Chosen One is destined to Save The Universe by retrieving a McGuffin.

Sound mundane?

Not so fast.

Author Tony Peak manages to take the standard setup and turn it into an enjoyable romp, delivering enough betrayals, revelations, and plot twists to keep all but the most jaded readers happy.

(Besides, just between you and me, avoiding the "Chosen One must retrieve McGuffin" setup in fantasy and sci-fi is rather like trying to avoid the murder in a mystery—it almost can't be done.)

Our heroine is Kivita Vondir, a space salvager. Her universe is a complex one, with various human factions fighting over dwindling resources in the inhabitable universe. The most influential of the factions is probably the religious cult known as the Inheritors. They believe themselves to be the inheritors of a legacy laid down by a departed race called the Vim. This departed race has left behind clues to their disappearance, and to the future of the human race, in artifacts which serve as datacores.

All of the races in the universe seem to be related to humans except the Sarrhdtuu. The Sarrhdtuu are some sort of hybrid humanoid—gelatinous, shape shifting thing-a-ma-jobbers that are so alien in mind and body that humans don't understand their motivations. The only thing known for sure is that their technology—and fighting prowess—is formidable.

Of course, Kivita is uniquely qualified to "read" these artifacts. Especially the most crucial of them all, the Juxj Star. Only she doesn't know it yet. But the Rector of the Inheritors, His Holiness Dunaar Thev, does. He intends to use Kivita to retrieve the Juxj Star and then dispose of her.


While the heroine is female, to me this read as a distinctly "male" book. While this may just be my own bias, the sexual tension (there is no on-page sex) felt distinctly masculine. An example, landing on planet after a long run, Kivita tries to buck herself up by telling herself: "Remember—there's jirr juice and sex out there." Nothing romantic or nuanced about it. Also, most problems get solved through action and violence—though the baddies are clever about laying their plots.


I've been a fan of Tony Peak for a while, having published his short story Meridian in June of 2011, and I'm happy he's broken out in long form with a major publisher.

Inherit the Stars reads like an old-fashioned pirate adventure in space. There are loads of shoot outs. True to the genre, the baddies can barely hit the broadside of an asteroid; the goodies can shoot the hair off a space mole. In one unforgettable scene, the heroine shoots the barrels off of five enemy rifles with a single shot.

This "pirate adventure" ambiance gets reinforced when we meet space pirates about halfway through the book, led by Shekelor Thal. Like all good pirates, Shekelor is motivated by greed.

Or is he? 

One nice thing about Inherit the Stars is that most of the characters—villains and heroes alike—have a mixed bag of motivations, some selfish, some selfless.

Kivita ends up with a romantic entanglement, also with mixed motivations.

The other thing I really enjoyed is that Peak is a master of dialog. All of his characters have distinct voices. He could have easily done away with the dialog tags and the conversations would still have been easy to follow.

There are sure to be more adventures on Kivita's universe. The book wraps up satisfactorily but there are a number of mysteries that have yet to be solved. All in all, Inherit the Stars is a nice read in the tradition of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but doesn't measure up to the greats in the field. As this is Peak's first published novel, I'm sure he will continue to improve and impress.

Find more about Tony Peak at www.tonypeak.net.



Dreamers  by Donna Glee Williams

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Dreamers is a thoughtful tale in the tradition of the finest of Ray Bradbury, bringing to mind “The April Witch” and Dandelion Wine. Essentially a love story between two people trapped between desire and duty, anyone who has relinquished freedom for responsibility will feel a deep affinity for the protagonists. 


The Dreamer is a sixteen-year-old village girl whose dreams are interpreted for the well-being of the town. Every morning the Scribe meticulously transcribes her dreams for interpretation. The Dreamer’s duty forces upon her monotony and solitude, a life shepherded by the Scribe, the Chief Interpreter, and the village Council. Love, or at least relationships, are forbidden. She has given up her own life:  she belongs to the town now. But even though her needs are provided for, she longs to be free, to live a normal life. The cost of being a Dreamer is not just freedom—Dreamers burn out after only a few short years. Little by little they stop being able to sleep and to dream. Once harvested, empty, they are killed and replaced. 


The Water-Bearer Orik is a nobleman who flees to the Dreamer’s small town to escape both responsibility and court intrigue. He is content to earn meager wages carrying water for the village folk, but the Dreamer catches his eye, and he begins a subtle courtship. Meanwhile, Orik’s brother’s men catch up with him, putting the Water-Bearer, and potentially the village, in danger.


The Scribe also sacrifices much of his life for the good of the town, and he grows fond of the Dreamer. Overly fond, in the eyes of the Chief Interpreter, given the girl’s life-expectancy.


Dreamers is part romance and part fantasy. It has many kind and sympathetic characters such as we meet in our own lives. These characters have their own needs, desires and flaws, and each helps the Dreamer grow in a unique way. However, not all of the characters here are benevolent. Unlike Williams’ The Braided Path, Dreamers does have villains. The Chief Interpreter interprets the dreams the way he sees fit and profits accordingly. If anything threatens his enterprise, including dreams he can’t twist to his own profit, he takes action. The Water-Bearer’s brother is evil, or at least surrounded by unscrupulous advisers, and believes beyond reason that the Water-Bearer has aims on the throne. 


We get a glimpse at the all-important dreams, of course, and they are interestingly conceived and executed. I quite enjoyed these trips of the imagination. Perhaps ‘marveled’ isn’t too strong a word, since I have tried writing dream sequences a time or two, and it’s not an easy thing. But Williams makes the dreams both believable and meaningful.


Donna Glee Williams is making a name for herself with quiet, meaningful fantasy without the hacking swords and drooling monsters we’ve become accustomed to. If I can take issue with anything I would say that at times the symbolism is too obvious when subtlety would have worked better. Dreamers also builds more slowly than some readers will have patience for. It is a book to enjoy luxuriating in a hot tub with a fine glass of wine perched on the edge. But beware, you may become so entranced you forget the wine.


Visit Donna Glee Williams here.

 Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep  Edited by Peter Öberg

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Contributors: Hans Olsson, Boel Bermann, Erik Odeldahl, Ingrid Remvall, Love Kölle, Lupina Ojala, Christina Mordlander, Pia Lindestrand, Jonas Larsson, Tora Greve, Andrew Coulthard, Johannes Pinter, Andrea Grave-Müller, AR Yngve, My Bergström, Anders Blixt, maria Haskins, Patrik Centerwall, Björn Engström, KG Johansson, Oskar Källner, Sara Koplijar, Eva Holmquist, Markus Sköld, and Anna Jakobsson Lund


Of all the data ever collected throughout human history, a majority of it was generated in the last two years. Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds and at times it is hard to keep up with it. Not just because I’m getting on in years, even the young folks are having a hard time wrapping their minds around what all is out there and what it is capable of. Automation and robotics are changing every aspect of the world we live in from automated factories to smart homes and cars to research in the medical field. But what happens when all of this technology decides we aren’t worth bothering with, or worse, we are in the way of its advancement.


Waiting For The Machines To Fall Asleep is a collection of 26 stories from Sweden. The Swedes take a slightly different look on things than we’re used to: Mankind has found a way to travel to a far off dimension only to find it populated by enormous, soulless killing machines. A city has found a way to kill off all of its rats in one fell swoop, only the inventor of the technology helps the rats turn the tables on the humans. A man is sent into a city of twisted dreams that is forever changing to find something that may hold the key to his own past. Humans create perfect androids, but are some things perfectly human without feelings? Perhaps it can overcome this imperfection by stealing human emotions. A mother commits the ultimate betrayal in order to save her dying son. The greatest scientific minds of the centuries come together but are soon torn apart by what appears to be magic. The machines have taken over and mankind decides it can put them all to sleep at once, but who is left that you can trust when all machines look just like men.


I have to admit, I haven’t read many books by Swedish authors. (I read one of the Stieg Larsson books when they were so popular years ago but didn’t care for it.) Living in the United States some people get the idea that the rest of the world is dramatically different, though I find most Western cultures are somewhat similar. Eastern culture is a different can of worms. With that being said, the stories presented here did have a “fresh” feel to them. There wasn’t really anything that had never been done before, just a slightly different take on familiar tropes that was compelling and refreshing.


While the first story was probably the weakest (and an odd choice for an opening) several of the stories really stick to your ribs…and then gnaw at them while you try to sleep. "Getting To The End" is a story that speaks to creative people, as to what happens to your creations when you take a break. Do their lives get put on hold, frozen, and waiting for their creator? Or do they get mixed in with every other idea in your head, lost and looking for answers? "The Order Of Things" told the touching story of a parent’s love for her child. Not only was she willing to give up her freedom, but the very things she spent her life fighting against in order to save her son. "The Publisher’s Reader" tells a tale where all creativity is measured against preordained rules, much the way Hollywood films and most YA books are starting to feel. In an ocean of copies and repeats a few drops of originality can still be found.


Along with the really strong stories there were a few that had a Twilight Zone feel to them. Not jumping off of the page satisfying but enough to make the reader give a hearty grunt and half smile when they finish. And a handful were largely forgettable. Not bad, they just didn’t resonate. 


If you want to see a slightly dark look at some real talent out of Sweden, pick up a copy. The stories have been perfectly translated. You may even find the a Sci-Fi version of Stieg Larsson in the mix. 


 Spirit of the Ronin Part Three of the Ronin Trilogy by Travis Heermann

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

In the opening of Spirit of the Ronin the ronin Ken'ishi gets what he has always desired—service to a great lord. (Ronin were master-less samurai.) The lord in question is the honorable Lord Otomo no Tsunetomo, and his Captain Otomo no Tsunemori.


Of course, complications immediately ensue. Ken'ishi has long been in love with the beautiful Kazuko. But Kazuko is now the wife of Lord Tsunetomo. 


Ken'ishi and Kazuko must constantly fight between loyalty, duty, and love. 


In addition, Ken'ishi's arch nemesis Green Tiger is employed in the castle. The crime lord has kept his secret identity hidden from Lord Otomo no Tsunetomo. Green Tiger's ultimate goal is to aid the Mongols to conquer Japan, in order that his disgraced clan can rise again in the aftermath.


Always perceptive, Green Tiger learns of Ken'ishi's love for Lady Tsunetomo, and seeks to exploit this.


Don't worry. The Japanese names are easily recognizable even if you don't know exactly how to pronounce them. 


If you watch Japanese movies or read Japanese literature, three of the most powerful forces in their culture are loyalty, duty and love. The way Heermann pits these forces against one another in the minds of the protagonists is masterful.


I have been a fan of Travis Heermann's work for many years. I previously published his short story "Shadows of the Deep" in NewMyths.com and "The Girl with No Name" is forthcoming in Issue 32. Spirit of the Ronin is Heermann in top form. He lived for several years in Japan as part of his research for this project, and the authenticity and love he has for the samurai culture breathes on every page. 


In Heerman's Japan, the spirits and gods interact with the world on a daily basis, making for a "magic system" rarely seen in literature. If you want to read something with a Japanese flavor both accessible and unique, Spirit of the Ronin is as good as you will find.


Green Tiger is very much like Iago of Shakespeare's play Othello, poisoning the minds of those around him with his clever words. While Green Tiger's stated reason for his conniving is to raise his clan to glory once more, in reality he simply can't stand what is good and wholesome in the world. 


Just as Iago poisons Othello's mind so completely that he murders his wife, Green Tiger manages to poison the mind of Hatsumi, handmaiden for Captain Tsunemori's wife, to the point that she—


Well, I'm not going to spoil it for you. But Hatsumi's fall and ultimate destruction become one of the most compelling and exciting adventures in the book. 


And this poisoning of the mind is the greatest danger facing our hero Ken'ishi as well. For Ken'ishi wields a very powerful sword, Silver Crane, and the sword thirsts for battle and blood. Ken'ishi sees, endures, and yes, creates, enough suffering and bloodshed that through the power of the sword his mind too begins to transform.


It all flows to an exciting and memorable conclusion.


The Ronin trilogy covers what are arguably the most important years in Japanese history, from 1274 through 1281. In this period the Mongols twice invaded the islands. Twice they were repulsed through feats of arms and good fortune, typhoons destroying a large portion of their fleet on both occasions.


Several years ago I read part one of the Ronin Trilogy with great enthusiasm. Somehow I missed the second installment. While this final installment refers often to events of the past, it does so in a clear enough fashion that I had no difficulty following it. Still, if you have the chance it would be much better to start with part one and follow the story chronologically.


As the book nears its end, the Mongols attack from the sea with overwhelming force. Heermann brings his story and the Mongol invasion together in an exciting and satisfying conclusion.


The novel is beautifully illustrated inside and out. My only regret was that the story ended.

 Writer's of the Future Volume 31 Edited by David Farland

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Contributors: Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Niven, Rebecca Moesta, David Farland, L. Ron Hubbard, Bob Eggleto, Kary Englis, Michael T. Banker, Amy H. Hughes, Daniel J. Davis, Zach Chapman, Krystal Claxton, Steve Pantazis, Sharon Joss, Scott R. Parkin, Martin Shoemaker, Auston Habershaw, T.R. Napper, and Samantha Murray 


Artists: Tung Chi Lee, Michelle Lockamy, Emily Siu, Shuangjian Liu, Taylor Payton, Amit Dutta, Alex Brock, Quinlan Septer, Choong Nyung Yoon, Megen Nelson, Megan Kelchner, and Daniel Tyka


Humans have a strange custom of getting together, generally once a year, and having a big ceremony to label which one of us is the best. These get-togethers usually bring the best and the brightest (or so they like to think) of any given field in one place where they pat each other on the back and then hand out awards for how great they are. This is fine and all, but it is usually a select few that win over and over again. What about the people who are just starting out? They too should be entitled to be commended for the good work they do. That is exactly what L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers Of The Future is about. It is a yearly anthology of the best science fiction and fantasy from authors and illustrators most people have yet to discover.


This year’s anthology was filled with wonderful tales that stretched the imagination and left disbelief wonderfully suspended. In the future, cops need to be more than observant and meticulous--they need to be augmented to catch the really good criminals, even if it means becoming one. When dogs are no longer man’s best friend, gods fill in for the perfect (or not so perfect) pet. Man has ventured to the stars only to find that nothing is there, but a strange new species may shed light on what happened to the rest of the life in the universe. The world has been destroyed and nothing remains except a ghost that may lead to salvation. A group of children and one adult find themselves in a home for people that have magical abilities but no means to control them.


The above is just a sampling of the stories in the collection by lesser known authors. The stories run from cyberpunk to urban fantasy to hard sci-fi. For the most part they are really well done. A few stick with you. It did seem like the better stories were near the front. Sometimes anthologies are laid out with the stronger stories near the front to hook the reader. While there were no bad stories here the later ones didn’t seem to move me as much. On the other hand it could just be fatigue from reading so many different stories back to back.


The anthology also featured short stories from some of the heavyweights of science fiction and fantasy. The late L. Ron Hubbard had a story featuring the future fall of Earth. Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta explored a fear all creative people have though most won’t talk about it, a fear of success. Larry Niven looked at what people would do if they knew it was their last night on Earth before total annihilation (this story has been around for a while and made one of my favorite The Outer Limits episodes, the new show not the original). Along with these tales were a handful of essays from L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, and Bob Eggleton.


Writer’s Of The Future also features Artists Of The Future. The artists that are chosen have to illustrate each story that has been selected for publication. An illustration accompanies each story and there are full color versions in the back. Again there is a nice mix. Some of the art reminds me of Phil Hale’s work, some looks like it was done by a young Brom, and there is one illustration that looks very similar to something Gabriel Rodriguez might produce. Again there are a few that didn’t really do anything for me and the quality of the illustrations and stories didn’t always match up either. 


If you are a new author or artist and are looking for a way to make a big break, pick up a copy and enter the contest. Not only is it a well paying market there is some recognition that comes along with being published here. And the essays within give great advice to writers and artists alike. Or if you are just a fan, then the cover price of Volume 31 is money well spent. Take your time and slowly digest each one.

 Killing Pretty by Richard Kadrey

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Humans tend to like order and repetition. People will lament to one another about breaking out and doing something different, but few do. Some do attempt to be or do something truly original, however they mostly regret it. The thought of absolutes (death and taxes come to mind) can be frightening. But something that is truly scary is the unknown. When absolutes, such as death, are no longer absolute all of a sudden all bets are off. 


Our favorite anti-hero, James Stark (also known as Sandman Slim) is living the not-so-easy life of watching his video rental business fail and trying to get used to his girlfriend’s new face. Stark decides maybe its time to get a real detective job: filing taxes, getting a 401K, and laying off the day drinking. He has to admit to himself that since most of his supernatural powers are gone (a trade he made in order to save the universe), a real job might be all that is left. But as Stark settles in to the 9-5 the first case he receives is a homicide. The odd thing about this particular homicide is that someone killed Death and now Death wants to know who killed him.


The angel of death was stuck in a human body and ritually killed. Stark needs to know why, and more importantly, who killed him. The dead aren't piling up but thousands are going into long stretching comas. Stark finds conspiracy upon conspiracy. Suspects run the gamut from vampires to neo-Nazis to necromancers. Taking out Death doesn't give any of them an advantage, as everyone will go on living forever. But if they were able to make a new Death, one that they could control, they would have the power of life over death. Whoever controls Death could control almost anything. And most importantly, whoever controls Death would be able to finally kill that pesky Sandman Slim. 


Kadrey starts the book off on the right foot: a bizarre mystery, several different paths it could go down, not letting the reader guess what the outcome is going to be, and enough exposition that a new reader doesn’t get too lost. The exposition isn’t seamless however. While some is snuck past the reader without them being any the wiser, the rest jars the reader out of the story some. However, at seven books it is a bit hard to jump into the action without catching up a little. 


This wasn't my first rodeo with Kadrey so I'm pretty familiar with his writing. At times he goes for a Raymond Chandler-esque style littered with profanity and dark humor. There is a lot of "I'm kicking you the real deal" tone in his writing but quite a few times he is able to produce beautiful turns of phrase. And Kadrey is able to paint a vivid picture of the supernatural underbelly of Hollywood that his characters populate, even if the characters themselves aren’t likable—interesting, not likable.


The plot immediately made me think of the Family Guy episode (Season 2, Episode 6, “Death Is a Bitch”) where Death breaks his ankle and can’t collect souls so everyone can survive. I can't be sure Kadrey is even aware of this but the odd comparison kept creeping into my mind as I read deeper into the book. Kadrey does have a twisted sense of humor but the cartoon was meant to be over-the-top ridiculous while Killing Pretty had a more serious flavor to it. That odd comparison aside, the idea of being able to ask Death questions about how he views existence and what he has seen gives the reader something to linger about long after they no longer want to think about it.


Aside from the main story arc there were a few other interesting bits such as the ghost fight club to the death (?). However the novel did tend to lean toward Stark and how he was coping both with losing some of his powers and the fact that his girlfriend, previously Candy now named Chihiro as she faked her death to escape going to prison, now looks different. The tough guy we’re accustomed to almost seemed like he was whining some here. As I said earlier there were a few jarring moments of exposition in the novel. Kadrey even used the "as you know, Bob" dialogue so often over-used in movies. And Stark focuses too much on events of previous novels. Kadrey may have been trying to humanize Stark and make him more relatable. It worked; it just felt a little heavy handed.


Fans of the series will have another adventure to explore, and share some introspection with Stark. If you haven’t read one of the Sandman Slim books you don’t need to in order to enjoy this book. But do yourself a favor and pick one up. Kadrey is a talented storyteller with intriguing characters and ideas. The books are fun: think not as witty as the Bobby Dollar series but more high-brow than the Deacon Chalk Bounty Hunter series.


 Ourselves by S.G. Redling

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Vampires tend top pop up every other decade and become the bee’s knees to one demographic or another. The most recent resurgence was aimed at lonely teenage (and unfortunately some older) girls, with the Twilight Series. This felt more like calculated, targeted marketing than crafty storytelling. It pulled the same tired stories and clichés and poured them into the minds of girls wanting to find the perfect undead man. If you want to pull out a cliché and try to make something out of it you better have some good writing chops (think Salem's Lot by Stephen King or, a little more obscure but the wonderfully written short story by Robert Bloch, "The Scent Of Vinegar"). Or dig a little deeper into the mythology, and find something that may have been there all along.


The Nahan have always been with us. They walk amongst us and hide in plain sight. They feed off of humanity without killing too often. This backstory is woven in and around two young socially awkward Nahan. Stell is part of the “true family,” a religious sect of the Nahan that has an Amish feel. They see their own existence and customs as an abomination and strive to purify themselves of their most basic urges. Stell grows up uneducated, alone, and trapped in a life she doesn’t want but can’t get away from. One day while she is skinny dipping on a mountain, she meets Tomas. Tomas is a bit slow but his cousin and best friend, Louis, thinks he'll come around. The two meet and immediate join one another in a passionate romp.


Tomas truly falls for Stell and introduces her to his family and friends. Though they try to be nice to Stell, they know that her being one of the true family will prevent the two from ever getting along. Tomas's family thinks that once he has his Avalentue, a rite of passage that involves traveling, he will forget about Stell. Conversely Stell's mother attempts to get her away from Tomas by taking her on the True family's version of Avalentue. While they travel they find their true calling and then go to find one another. 


The beginning is a bit slow and drawn out. That's not always a bad thing but here it felt as through Redling (the author) needed to get to the point sooner. She was also playing with the fact that the Nahan are some kind of vampires, without stating it. There was one too many hints dropped and then dragged along long after we knew what they were.


Tomas decides he wants to be a storyteller against everyone's wishes. Storytellers keep the Nahan safe by creating new lives for them as they age at a much slower rate than humans. Stell decides to stay with Tomas though she is battling her ever-growing bloodlust. Tomas begins his rigorous training but starts to see something moving behind the scenes, something that is anything but benevolent. Stell also begins to learn things about the storytellers that make her not only fear for Tomas’ live, but the lives of all Nahan. 


Ourselves has a bit of an odd layout for a novel. The first portion is character development with no real direction. The plot didn't advanced much, the reader is just spinning his wheels while being overwhelmed with exposition. The socially awkward hero archetype is almost as overdone now as the mysterious, handsome stranger or the pain girl that comes out of her shell and is all of a sudden beautiful. The second niggling fact that bothered me was that there was no clearly defined antagonist until near the end of the book. Again, all books don’t need an antagonist (however most speculative books have one), but the characters’ struggles weren't even brought to light until the second half of the novel.


Vampires in general I find tiring. There are only a handful of writers that I feel handle them well. But turning the mythology on its head, or its side in this case, does breathe a little bit of life into the mythos. Redling skipped over the usual stake through the heart, creeping around at night, and super attractiveness that has been slipped into mainstream vampire media. This makes the Nahan a bit more original (though not as original as say the vampire from Peter Watts excellent novel, Echopraxia), however not that much more interesting. 


The most interesting aspect of the novel was the storytellers and their motivations; however, we didn’t get as close a look as we would have liked.


Overall the novel isn’t bad. There is a bit of tag playing with the readers as to what the Nahan are and a bit of an odd story structure, but Redling is a decent writer. She also at least tried to take something that has become cliché, vampires, and twist and push them in a new direction. 


The publisher may struggle to find the right market for Ourselves as there is too much violence for the casual reader and not enough for veteran horror readers. But for less than five dollars for the Kindle version Ourselves is well worth checking out. 

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

There has always been a special place in my heart for Norse mythology. Maybe it stems from learning basic mythologies when I was around ten (they taught things like that years ago). We covered mostly the Greek/Roman stuff, barely touching the Norse. Or maybe my fascination comes from how Norse mythology has permeated every aspect of pop culture, but it doesn’t feel quite right. And while Loki is gaining more and more admirers mainly based off of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal in the silly, bloated Marvel movies, he is almost always portrayed as the bad guy. 


In The Gospel of Loki we are given mythology from a self-aware perspective; its participants know it is the reigning belief pasted over the previous and preparing for its ultimate replacement by something different. We see the Norse myths through the eyes of Loki, the Trickster, as he watches the Norse Pantheon be built from the ground up, or from Ymir’s dead body up. 


Loki lives in the fires of chaos and watches as Odin and his brothers make the nine worlds. 


By choosing Loki as the protagonist, Harris chose an interesting viewpoint. She gives us the first person perspective of a being that is generally viewed in a pejorative manner. We get the Trickster's insights on everything that is happening, a unique take on Norse creation.


Odin builds alliances and makes a home for the gods and the humans to live in. Loki watches the old man (Odin) on his never-ending quest to gain knowledge and remain in power. But Loki sees something else in the other gods. He doesn’t see them as powerful beings to worship or be feared. He sees them as vain, stupid, careless, and greedy beings. Beings that don’t deserve the opportunities Odin gives them. Beings that should be tricked and made to look foolish in the eyes of eternity. 


Odin offers Loki a chance to join him in Asgard. Many promises are made but both sides know that they won’t be kept. 


Loki comes to his new home to a less than warm welcome. None of the other gods trust him, nor should they. His nature is to be a trickster. But they find that his deceiving nature can be useful. Loki uses his trickery to help Asgard gain better defenses. It awards the gods with new treasures, including Thor's hammer. The only issue is that Loki usually has to pit his life in the bargain. Each time the adventure nearly fails and only Loki's quick thinking pulls him out of the fire. 


Each times that gods are happy with the ultimate result but couldn't care less about what happens to Loki.


As ages go by Loki begins to resent how the others treat him. He starts by taking petty revenges such as cutting off Sif's hair to the more extreme orchestration of Balder's death. Odin breaks his word and imprisons Loki to be forever tormented. Loki breaks free to battle against the gods in Ragnarok but his fate is a bit different from those recorded in the mythologies.


Joanne Harris is no stranger to writing good books; she is the author of the award winning Chocolat that was later turned into an Oscar nominated film. She takes her skills and applies them here to a specific take on Norse mythology. While she strayed a bit from the source material here and there, she did a wonderful job of breathing new life into these old tales. Harris puts an interesting twist on the unreliable narrator by the narrator stating upfront that he is unreliable. Harris also did a wonderful job of not making the characters "good guys" or "bad guys." She presents them as very human with their concerns, personalities, and pettiness. The novel focuses less on the heroic and noble deeds of the Norse gods as is typical. And it completely stayed away from the utter rubbish that was spawned out of the Marvel comics (versus the DC/Vertigo comics which are rather good). 


This was a wonderfully written and entertaining novel. There didn't seem to be anything too inappropriate in it, so I recommend that the younger crowds pick it up and have a look. If you already know the stories, the novel follows the same general outcome with a few twists and turns along the way. While it wanders from the source material a bit, it can serve as a good starting point, or a pique of interest for those wanting to learn more about the Norse Pantheon. 


Pick it up and read it now.

Love, Time, Space, Magic Edited by Elizabeth Hirst

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Elizabeth Hirst has gathered a beautiful collection of stories in Love, Time, Space, Magic.

The overall theme is "love" of course. Love in various guises, always with an important speculative element. While all written by different authors, the "feel" of the stories reminded me of Spellcast by Barbara Ashford, a novel which combines love, magic, and musical theater.

Romantics, dreamers, and believers in magic—particularly the magic of love—will enjoy this collection of short stories.

 Below are my thoughts on the individual stories.


"I Sing the Recurring Melody" by Deborah Walker

In a fantasy world young Verna falls in love with the Dark Hand, a mysterious woman-traveler. A bewitching story of a musician trying to find her identity while shadowing the traveler.

 

"Leave the World to Darkness" by Fraser Sherman

Possibly my favorite story in the anthology, "Leave the World" is a sci-fi mystery story about Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla trying to save the world from "the Nazi master of shadows."

 

"Out of Their Minds" by Ira Nayman

A weird tale comprising funny vignettes. The humor will keep you reading. It does all come together in the end. Sort of.

 

"The Dying Place" by Melinda Selmys

I saw this as an absolutely unique take on the grim reaper, though the author might not agree.

 

"Melanie in the Underworld" by Victoria Feistner

This is my other favorite story. It absolutely has the feel of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and anything that reads like Neil Gaiman is good in my book. This retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus's attempt to save his wife from Hades will grab you by the eyeballs and not let go until the last line.

 

"Faster than the Speed of Slight" by Clint Spivey

A tale of love between a man and an android. Full of surprises and good characterization, this story is surprisingly poignant.

 

"Seven Days by Stephen B. Pearl

Will is willing to do almost anything for the woman that he loves, including summoning a god-like being to pleasure her for seven days. Just to kind of buck up her moral.

Would you?

 

"Her Vampire Lover" by Tim McDaniel

A flash story to make you smile.

 

"All the Herbs in Her Garden" by Kathryn Yelinek

A gardener helps a magician find love again. Along the way, expect beauty and dread.

 

"The Softest Sell of Image" by Russ Bickerstaff

This story left me confused. A man falls in love with a girl. Or is it a TV commercial?

 

"Modern Love" by Gustavo Bondori

As someone who not only dated through eHarmony, but found his wife through eHarmony, I found this story particularly appealing. In a very clever way it deals with the pluses and pitfalls of the electronic age with regards to dating. Fun characters, nice dilemmas. Great stuff.

Rigteous Fury by Markus Heritz

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

History is written by the victors, or so the saying goes. We don't ever get to see the other side's tale. The nations that were conquered and vanished we see through the eyes of those who fought against them and won. Often times the losers are vilified. 


We all see ourselves as the hero in our own lives…almost all of us. 


Some people are truly evil--and they relish in it.

 

Sinthoras and Caphalor are two warriors of the älfar, or dark elves. Both are talented artists, warriors, and are extremely cruel. A chance meeting makes the two immediately dislike each other. 


The reader gets a look into the älfs' lives and see that they are almost complete opposites: Sinthoras is ambitious, egotistical, and reckless where as Caphalor is reserved, methodical, and humble. But the two are about to be forced to work together. 


Heitz draws us into the world of the älfar but it is very hard to get to like either of his heroes. Both are unusually cruel for viewpoint characters and it takes a few chapters to get used to the älfar's strange view of the world.

 

The Inextinguishables, brother and sister älfar that have ruled the race for centuries, summon both warriors to their chamber where they pair the two up on a mission. Sinthoras and Caphalor are to travel together to find a mist demon. The demon alone has the power to break the magic of the Stone Gateway and open up the world of Tark Draan. 


The Inextinguishables have wanted to take control of the land for some time but could not get past the Stone Gateway. Pairing up the two opposites could give the siblings access what they want.

 

Sinthoras and Caphalor immediate clash and run into problems as they advance to their goal. Both älfar want to be the one to make the deal and receive the glory, though Sinthoras yearns more for this. The two bicker and run into a series of trials they have to undertake on their way. The biggest source of conflict is Sinthoras's runaway slave, Raleeha. Sinthoras blinded her in the opening scene for a trivial matter but her infatuation with him drove her to follow him on his quest. In a fit of rage, Sinthoras gives her to Caphalor.

 

Through much trial and tribulation, the two return triumphant. But regret and betrayal pushed the two together in friendship and then to battle against the Tark Draan. The älfar amass a mighty army to break through the Stone Gateway. Sinthoras and Caphalor push through to battle the creatures on the other side. They call the creatures the groundlings, but others might know them better as the Dwarves.

 

This was an interesting book that is a prequel to the events in Heitz' Dwarves series. As stated, the author took the unusual choice of having the viewpoint characters evil. I'm not saying that they were bad guys to those that fought them. They were just evil. The älfar seem to relish in how horrible they treat other races and even each other. It takes a long time to get behind these characters for the reader. 


There is a trend these days to see things from the bad guys points of view (Breaking Bad, Sopranos, The Shield), but these stories develop some form of anti-hero. In Righteous Fury, these guys are just wrong.

 

The trials the two run through felt like a homage to Tolkien--and a bit like filler. Since it was hard to care about the main characters, you kind of root for them to get killed. I think Heitz was attempting to expand on the characters and humanize them a bit through these trials. It doesn’t work, but it does flesh out their world more. And it introduces us to some really interesting adversaries, must notably the Gålran Zhadar.

 

Just because the viewpoint characters weren't pleasant doesn't mean the book was bad. In fact, Heitz' writing pulls you in as he creates a realistic world. The viewpoint characters aren't much to cheer on, but the world building and its trials are fascinating. And seeing how the other races view the älfar and how they interact is worth reading the novel for.

 

The älfar history is laid out either through pages from the Epocrypha of the Creative Spirit (a history book within the world of the novel) or through conversation between the characters. There is just enough given to really make your imagination kick into high gear. Also the älfar's customs such as using bones and blood of a fallen foe or friend to make art is really interesting as well.

 

If you are a fan of The Dwarves series this is a must. If you're not you may want to start with the main story line first. And you have to be willing to overlook a fault, or twenty, with the main characters.

The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Some ideas are big, so big that they can't be told in one sitting. The author thinks--hopes--that he can tell everything in one big swallow, but the risk is that the audience will become lost in the sea of ideas. Then an outside influence comes along and tells the spinner of the tale that he should break it up into small bites. One such story is Charles Stross' The Merchant Princes Series, the first volume of which was published in 2004. With The Bloodline Fued, an omnibus of the first two novels, we have the chance to see the books as the author initially envisioned them.


Miriam is a tech journalist that has just found a story that can make her career. With the help of a researcher, Paulette, she gathers enough information to reveal how several big companies are involved in money laundering. Unfortunately, those companies own the magazine she works for and she finds Paulette and herself being escorted into the streets. While the book was put back into its original form it wasn't updated with the times, so there are quite a few dated references. Also we've seen an evolution of our media, especially here in the United States. Some of the media giants we have are being run with a particular bias, generally political. So while it isn't completely unheard of for a media company to try to shut up a journalist, it is a bit of a strain to believe they would be so harsh to someone that could potentially go elsewhere and topple them.


Miriam is depressed and stewing--and planning run the story and take vengeance on the company that treated her so roughly. She attempts to take solace in her adopted mother, instead gets a few harsh words that amount to "buck up" and a box of belongings that was found along with her birth mother. Miriam was found next to her murdered mother as an infant. Deciding to dig deeper into her mother’s murder, she finds a locket with the belongings and opens it. Inside is a strange symbol that transports her to another world. The locket transports her to a forest with people straight out of the Dark Ages; only the knight that tries to run her down has a machine gun.


Once she figures out how to return to her own world (looking at the locket again) she decides that this might be a much bigger story and a way to hide from the enforcers coming from the companies laundering money. Only something more sinister comes after her. She is kidnapped and taken to the other world only to find out that she is part of a royal family, a family that has built its fortune off of traveling between the worlds and trading. But in order to keep power they have to keep some of the more advanced technology, medicine, and knowledge to themselves. Our protagonist starts to grow used to the royal life, until she stumbles onto yet one more plot that could cost her life. Now she is running from dangers on both sides. She sees a way to bring up the people of the new world through introductions of technology, but what if there are more worlds with even more dangers.


The book gets off to quite a slow start, but not in a bad way. Stross slowly and laboriously lays down the exposition, building a world from the ground up. So much detail is given that the reader accepts the world completely. Though the novels won a series of awards, I have to wonder if the original novel released was nothing but exposition. Things don’t really start to pick up until about halfway through this omnibus. 


Stross also lays down a set of rules used by the family that prevent them from jumping around whenever they feel like it: only those of royal blood can travel, travel causes severe headaches and can kill someone who travels too much, and they have to be looking at a certain design that there are a limited amount of. This makes an interesting plot device that prevents people from jumping in, killing an enemy, and jumping back out. 


While all of the intrigue, murder plots, and internal fighting are interesting (though not anything different from other thriller/historical thriller type novels) what held my attention was the economics. It was like Stross wanted to write a book about economics, thought it was too boring, and wrapped it in a world-jumping, alternate history novel. It is fascinating to discover how one person with a set of ideas (copied patents in the novel) could really change the world in a short period of time. Sure it has happened before, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and in our lifetime, Steve Jobs. But this go-round we understand everything and watch as an entire civilization can be lifted up with an idea. 


If you’re a fan, use this opportunity to read it in its original form. If you’re new to the series it has plenty of ideas to hold your interest and gives you lots to think about long after you put it down. The rest of the series is also being re-released so you won’t have to wait long to see how it ends.

Blood Will Follow by Snorri Kristjansson

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Snorri Kristjansson came thundering onto the scene last year with Swords Of Good Men. Aside from having a name that is a mouthful, Kristjansson showed readers a world where Vikings were alive and well…until someone stuck a sword in them. The first book is a great read, if only for the city under siege parts. When a new author comes along and sets the bar high, sometimes even that same author can't reach the bar on the second go round. 


Our heroes, Ulfar Thormodsson and Audun Arngrimsson, have survived the battle of Stenvik. But survived may not be the correct word. Skuld has cursed them to walk the world forever and their wounds seemed to be gone. The two friends walk away from all the bloodshed suffering from post-traumatic shock. Without much discussion, they head their separate ways to find answers. Kristjansson doesn't bother recapping the last novel; he picks up the action shortly after the last book ended. Swords Of Good Men had an abrupt change right at the end that rocked the reader, and Kristjansson doesn’t want them to get their balance just yet.


King Olav has achieved his goal of taking Stenvik. He can use the stronghold to spread the word of the White Christ, or to spread the blood of those who don't wish to listen. But King Olav is restless. There is so many that still stand in his way with their old gods. Treachery runs rampant in the men that are now under him, most against their will. The plotting healer, Valgard, convinces Olav to head north where he can easily gain footholds. But Valgard is looking for something from his gods, something that will make him more powerful than any other mortal. We get a closer look at Olav in this book and are robbed of some of the mystery, and therefore intrigue, of the character.


Ulfar attempts to drink away his brush with death while Audun tries to work it away by taking all jobs that come his way. Ulfar eventually finds his way back to his home, where he has to explain why his friend, Geiri, died in Stenvik. Treachery abounds and more plots are revealed against Ulfar. That will have to wait as Ulfar once again rides into battle against King Olav's army. But first he has to find a friend that can help him.


Audun meets a wise old man, Fjölnir, with one good eye. The old man allows Audun to work for him for a while before soldiers come looking for able-bodied men. The old man protects Audun from the soldiers but tells him he must leave. He gives Audun a belt that he can use to fight off the berserker in him. Audun leaves and once again finds work for a widow named Helga. He works for her for some time before the two fall in love. But she has a jealous neighbor that turns Audun over to the soldiers looking for all able bodies. Audun agrees to leave with the soldiers to prevent violence at Helga’s farm. Once Audun is gone, the men who were involved with informing the soldiers of Audun’s presence are killed by mysterious magic, and Helga vanishes.  


The two friends have learned much about themselves, but now they have to find each other. King Olav's army is growing larger and stronger by the day. And Valgard may have found the secret to the old gods. Men and gods are rushing to battle one another. 


The book was well written. There were plenty of minor battles, and other slices of life that weren't slices of men. Unfortunately I kept waiting for something to happen. This felt like a "bridge" novel. In that, I mean there were lots of important events in the first novel and this one just kind of strolls along building up for something to happen in the next. If you are a diehard fan or if the first book really pulled you in (as was the case when I read it) this isn't a terrible idea. But for the average reader looking for a good fantasy book to get lost in, Blood Will Follow may not win them over. As I stated above, this book starts with no recap, which may leave new readers scratching their heads.


Sneaking in the Teutonic gods was pretty interesting. Introducing the reader to characters that were heavily hinted at being gods of the Teutonic Pantheon really catches the attention. And the general conniving nature of the gods, pulling strings behind the scenes and setting things in motion, works with this novel's format of setting up ideas before the next installment. 


In some ways Blood Will Follow is an improvement over Swords Of Good Men--we weren’t awash in bombastic speeches this time. But I felt there was no true climax, like the siege and eventual loss of Stenvik in the first. All in all, it is still a well-written book and will fall nicely in the memory once the trilogy is finished. Pick up a copy and read it…after you read the Swords Of Good Men.


The Write Stuff by Barry B. Longyear

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

I began reading The Write Stuff a few years back when it was only available as a word document which author Barry B. Longyear would email to you for a few dollars with the request not to copy and send it to a dozen of your closest friends. When it came out in trade paperback a couple of years later I bought that version--there’s just something about the feel of a glossy cover. During the ensuing years I worked on the first major homework assignment. I suppose I will continue working on it for the rest of my life. It’s called Finding Your Vibes.

Finding Your Vibes is a methodology for looking at all the stories that most affect you and analyzing why they affect you, really digging deep into your own psyche. So you notice that you like protagonist misfits, Why is that? What about misfit characters speaks to you? Longyear isn’t content with a glib answer, he wants you to dig into your psychology, your past, your history to discover Why really? You are to ask this question about all aspects of story:  character, dialog, conflict, theme, and so forth, in all the books which have resonated with you over the years. Once you have finished with that, you are to do the same with the movies, plays, musicals, art, short stories, poems, et cetera which have stuck with you for years. Once that homework assignment is finished, you can begin looking at those stories that don’t speak with you at all, and try to discover: Why not?

The Write Stuff is not for the faint of heart. I suspect that is why there are only two reviews of it on Amazon at the moment. Everyone who picks it up realizes it is brilliant, but most will stop with the subsequent realization that Longyear’s method demands work, a lot of it. No one who isn’t serious about becoming a lifelong writer will bother doing the homework.

As I mentioned, a couple of months ago I decided I had collected enough vibes to move on to other parts of The Write Stuff. The next section deals with Generating Ideas. I thought I already knew how to generate and organize ideas, and I do. However, it took me loads of trial and error to come up with a system similar to Longyear’s. I could have saved so much time had I begun with The Write Stuff!

Section three, What is a Story, is similar to Longyear’s explanation of story in Science Fiction Writers Workshop-I. That book is, in my opinion, the best introduction to writing fiction around, in any genre. It includes such things as character, point of view, conflict, buildup, resolution, and so forth.

I generally skip any explanation on Research I run across. I already know everything there is to know, right? I have a degree in journalism. I’ve written nonfiction books, articles, and fiction heavy with research. What is there to learn? Well, in what became a frequent refrain, I could have saved so much time if I had begun with The Write Stuff. After much trial and error on my own, I came up with a system similar to Longyear’s, but the inadequate research—and nonexistent methodology—of two “seat-of-the-pants” novels led to me ultimately binning them for flaws the size of Winnebagos. Two years of work in the trash because of sloppy research. With my next project I’m beginning with Longyear’s method of using four files: a timeline from the birthdate of the oldest person mentioned in the story, a map, a “notes” file, and the manuscript.

Let me repeat:  the Research section of The Write Stuff is the best explanation on how to do and organize research I have ever seen, bar none.

Finally, now that you have your Vibes, your research, and your methodology, The Write Stuff tackles Writing and Rewriting. In it are little gems such as Where to look for character flaws. That alone is worth the price of the book.

This is a very “interior-based” method. While most other works focus on what appeals to the audience (Story by Robert McKee is a classic), Longyear would have us look inside to what appeals to us. It is no secret that Longyear has gone through a lot of rehab, and the methodologies used in rehab, digging deep inside ourselves to discover Why? and Why, really? are evident here.

Anyone who is serious must do the homework, in one fashion or another. I suspect that Longyear’s methodology will save time in the long run, and I know it will improve the writing of anyone who undertakes it. I described Finding My Vibes to award-winning author Amy Sterling Casil (author of Female Science Fiction Writer), and she called the advice “Pure gold.” I couldn’t agree more.

Fearie Tales Edited by Stephen Jones, Illustrated by Alan Lee

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Contributors: Ramsey Campbell, Peter Crowther, Christopher Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris, Markus Heitz, Brian Hodge, Tanith Lee, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Brian Lumley, Garth Nix, Reggie Oliver, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, and The Brothers Grimm

 



Fairy tales are all the rage these days in popular media. They are being reintroduced under the branding of "gritty retelling/reboots." The odd thing is, that these tales originally didn't need to be any more "gritty." They were dark already, some to a horrifying extent. Disney came along and turned some of them into kid friendly tales that were much lighter. Once the market was opened up, others jumped on the bandwagon to make the happier versions. But the darkness was always there, waiting to come out again. Stephen Jones has collected stories by some of the best modern fantasy writers who give their own dark twist on these familiar tales. Though the authors don't have to stray far from the source material.

 

Fearie Tales goes over the familiar tales as well as some of the more obscure ones. There are a couple of takes on Rumpelstiltskin: one where a grandmother can hear the creature coming for the child through a baby monitor and another that is a little more inventive dealing with captains of industry and their servant. There is a new take on Hansel and Gretel involving cannibalism and home cooking. Rapunzel may not have had golden hair but golden flowered vines that pulled you up to something horrible. The youth who went forth to learn what fear was is a young woman who kills some by accident and then later saves others by never knowing what it means to be afraid. There is a retelling of the Changeling that this time has a Lovecraftian twist to it.  Each story is broken up with an abbreviated version of a Brothers Grimm tale in between.

 

Overall it is a good collection. There are a few tales that make you think twice about stumbling around in the dark after reading them. The best of the bunch was probably John Ajvide Lindqvist's novella length story, "Come Unto Me." Though you go into it knowing it is a Rumpelstiltskin story Lindqvist draws up a rich tale of love and betrayal. The most ambitious story was "The Artemis Line," by Peter Crowther. Talk about putting a new spin on an old concept. The most original was Garth Nix's "Crossing The Line." Nix gives us a western, monster story mash-up. And one of my favorite speculative authors, Michael Marshall Smith, gave us a tale that was both thought provoking and humorous as he generally does with "Look inside." Ramsey Campbell and Tanith Lee both bring in good old fashion round-the-campfire type stories that will give the reader a chill.

 

Though there are quite a few good stories here a few that seemed to miss the mark. Markus Heitz is a highly celebrated author but his story "Fräulein Fearnot" seemed like a skeleton of a story, though it ran to around forty pages. It was almost too fast-paced with writing that was just stating this happened followed by that. At first I thought it was the translation, but it was his usual translator (Sheelagh Alabaster). I don't know if he wanted it to be bare bones and fast-paced to give readers a sense of urgency, but it didn't work well for me. Neil Gaiman's story, "Down to the Sunless Sea," was another one that was lacking. I know he has a rabid fan following that may attempt to stone me in the streets, however this little story (it is only about two pages long) just felt like it was more about the delivery than the story.

 

The collection is sprinkled with Alan Lee illustrations. Each illustration is equal measure grotesque and beautiful. A few times the artwork is more memorable than the stories they illustrate. The cover art is also beautifully haunting.

Bored of the Rings By Henry N. Beard & Douglas C. Kenney

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Published by Touchstone (October 30,2013), 192 pages



In an article for The Writer, Ray Bradbury once wrote: "We build tensions toward laughter, then give permission, and laughter comes," and "sicken me not unless you show me the way to the ship's rail."* I wonder what he would have thought at The Harvard Lampoon's poor attempt at a parody of The Lord of the Rings. Authors Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney build tension toward laughter but never give you a break before dumping more on your head. Though you pray and search, there is no ship's rail in sight.


We all know the story, or at least the basic outline of this parody. Our Boggie hero, Frito Bugger, must take the not so great ring and toss it in the Zazu Pits while the dark lord Sorhed sends his armies out to stop them. Frito is accompanied by a party of sociopaths : Spam Gangree, Goodgulf Grayteeth, and the twins Moxie and Pepsi. If you’re a fan of the books and/or movies the pun on the names will give you a bit of a chuckle but their silly actions quickly grow tiring. The jokes and zaniness of this parody are piled on top of each other to the point where you can't catch a breath in between them. 


Other characters include: Arrowroot of Arrowshirt, Legolam, and Gimlet. They mostly appear for slapstick that just doesn't work, though punsters may appreciate some of the puns. Unlike the source material, we are blessedly limited in the amount of characters that appear to quip bad one-liners and behave in a pointless manner. The various aspects of the quests, important to the original tale, are glossed over here with more bad puns. 


There are a few gems in this huge dung pile, most of which are in the footnotes. There were some really obscure references explained in a funny way. Or when it is "revealed" that this book only exists to make money. In fact, these were the only times I actually laughed while reading this book. Though this is an updated version, most of the 1960's references are left in. I suspect that modern generations won't get them. A few drops of highbrow humor in an ocean of lowbrow filth don’t make it worth reading, even if it is less than 200 pages.


I am aware that this is a parody and not meant to be taken seriously. But a modicum of seriousness between jokes could have gone a long way in making this at least tolerable. Instead we are treated with an Adam Sandler-type treatment where he just gets angry and shouts for the entire 90 minutes. It doesn't have to be high drama but at least give us something that is not an attempt at humor so we can get grounded for the next joke. 


At least the book was honest about only existing to make money. Avoid this like the plague and read the source material instead.


*"The Secret Mind," The Writer, November, 1965.

They Say the Sirens Left the Seas By James Hutchings

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

New Myths doesn’t normally review books of poetry but there’s an exception to everything. They Say the Sirens Left the Seas by James Hutchings is a fun, eclectic mix of 46 poems that is both fun and relevant to everything about modern life. “The Assignation,” one of the poems in the collection, was first published back in New Myths Issue 19, in 2012. It was inspired by one of my favorite authors, Lord Dunsany.


The poems within are mostly short, 8-30 lines or so, and for the most part adhere to a strict rhythm and meter. As someone who has read a lot of modern poetry, I can tell you this is rare. In my opinion, form should be chosen based on function. Some poems should definitely be in free verse, others in strict meter and rhythm, others somewhere in between. But what I see most often is poets putting everything in free form…and not bothering to even learn the classical forms. The loss belongs both to reader and writer. Imagine trying to write a rumba without first learning Latin rhythms. 


Hutchings doesn’t have this problem. The rhyming here may be a bit limerick-like for some, but it works in most cases. Hutchings is at his best when dipping into the comic vein. The endings of his poems are often “surprising but inevitable,” and cause a belly laugh or a knowing nod, maybe a sigh. 


Some of the poems deal with fantasy, and some with science fiction, others with modern life, growing old, and relationships. If there is a disappointment it’s that the title comes from a single, beautiful poem, but sirens and seas are not a theme throughout the pages. I’m fine with the eclectic mix; others won’t be.


They Say the Sirens Left the Seas may not be Pulitzer Prize winning poetry but it kept me reading from beginning to end. It’s the best 99 cents I have invested in some time.


I’ll leave you with this ditty, reproduced with the author’s permission:



Automation


There’s a phone that’s so smart it captures your heart

then it leaves you without any warning.

There’s a program that’s free and it’s got HIV

and it tiptoes away in the morning.

The’ve invented an app that can treat you like crap

with a voice that’s abrasive and grating

then you find in the end that it slept with your friend

so, in short, you don’t need to be dating.



Path of Needles By Alison Littlewood

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Path Of Needles

by Alison Littlewood

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong


As we mentioned in a previous review, fairy tales seem to be all the rage these days. The popular thing to do is a “gritty re-imaging” though many were quite dark to begin with. But a new twist would be seeing how people would react to the things carried out in fairy tales in present day. In the years of yore, people might have been okay with abandoning your children when they get too expensive or killing someone who was prettier than you, but nowadays that kind of thing is frowned on.

A girl is found murdered and dumped in the woods. The police chuck the murder up to a crime of passion but one newly trained officer, Cate Corbin, notices something odd about the positioning of the body. It is staged to look like Snow White: her hair dyed black, her lips were painted as red as blood, and even her skin has been bleached to a paler shade. At first her colleagues dismiss or laugh at Cate, until the next body shows up, this one in a red cape with a basket of food by her side. Littlewood wastes no time getting us into the mystery and introducing a cast of characters, with more than a few of them who could have blood on their hands. She tackles the more familiar fairy tales that would be easily recognizable to the reader before tossing in a few odder ones.

Cate finds a local professor, Alice Hyland, who is an expert in fairy tales. Though the victims don't fit with the most recent or popular version of the fairy tales, Alice is able to point out some older variants that the killer is using. Alice helps the police advance their case but she starts to add in dimensions the police never thought of. They begin to see her less as an aide in their investigations and more of a suspect. The characters are fleshed out well enough for the reader to see that the author isn't using literary misdirection to pull a suspect out of a hat.

Cate starts to see the error in her ways by bringing Alice in on the case but doesn't notice that she is beginning to obsess over the killings. Alice believes that she can find some sort of key that will unlock everything and stumbles onto something that goes back decades. All the wrong suspects are being rounded up as the killer begins working on the final fairy tale to end it all.

I read and reviewed Alison Littlewood's previous book, A Cold Season (Jo Fletcher, 2013), a while back and I really didn't care for it. It suffered from tons of problems. Path Of Needles is the opposite. Where Littlewood's previous novel suffered from over description and a slow, plodding pace, her new novel hums right along with every passage integral to the plot. A Cold Season was riddled with plot holes while Path Of Needles has everything tied up in a nice neat little package at the end. Sure there are a few rough spots here and there but it shows a dramatic improvement in ability from one novel to the next.

The fairy tale variants were fascinating; for some reason these old tales still resonate with many of us. Reading the book you could see and feel the research that went into it. The fairy tale angle also put a new twist on the police procedural part of the novel that is fairly well trodden (I don't think there is a tremendous difference in the various police procedurals out there but that is their attraction). The brutality of some of the original stories doesn't really touch us until we take them out of the fantasy worlds of magic and look at them in the cold hard light of reality.

The book is replete with plenty of unsavory characters that could possibly be our killer. While there were a lot of ways Littlewood could have went with this, the reveal of the killer doesn't really strike you as false or as a "got ya" moment. Everything fits and the back-story as to why is more interesting than the who. The implied magical elements are similar. Littlewood never comes out and states that these things are actually happening, instead letting the reader decide what is real and what isn't.

If you are a fan of police procedurals, have an interest in fairy tales, or just want to read a good thriller go ahead and pick this up. If you are looking for more supernatural elements you won't find them here. However, you will find a finely written novel about how we deal with fantasy as it is brought into reality.

Watt O'Hugh Underground By Steven S. Drachman

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Trilogies are a funny thing. An author either has an idea that is so big it can’t be contained in one book or they aren’t quite finished with an idea or character after one book. Some authors can just run with a character and crank out one good book after another, think Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Others come out with a strong opening and then fall flat on the second one. The second book, after releasing a great first book, is always the great test of writing ability.


We left Watt O’Hugh at two points in time at the end of the last of novel. In one instance he is at the end of his life writing his memoirs. In the other when he is younger, he has lost more than one person he thought was important to his life and now makes various plans of vengeance while attempting to drink himself to death. These are the same two points we pick up the second novel at. A young woman, Hester Smith, knocks down the younger, angry, drinking O'Hugh's door and asks him for help and in return she offers him vengeance. Drachman does a bit of catch-up here but not so much that a new reader will get bogged down in it.


Hester needs Watt to help her rob a train. Though she claims that they can get rich from the robbery it’s not money Hester is after. The train is full of people from Sidonia, whom O’Hugh would like to see every last one of die. And the people are all protecting a secret.


Hester isn’t the only one looking for the secret. The bad poet Yu Dai-Yung is now in America looking for something as well. What he lacks in ability to write poetry he more than makes up for in his gunslinger talents. Yu finds a guide in the last of Peking Indians. Together the two may have to travel through hell to find their answers.


Watt O’Hugh finds himself wealthy with a new love in his life and in a place where time stands still. He could stay there forever. But he is still driven to go into the belly of the beast and confront his sworn enemies. With Billy Golden’s help, Hugh sets off with a new face to Sidonia. There he will either find his vengeance or his death.


While Drachman’s first novel, The Ghosts Of Watt O’Hugh, was fantastic, I felt he stumbled a bit with this one. Splitting the narrative between O’Hugh and Yu felt like a mistake. While Yu’s story was interesting and quite funny at times, it felt like a distraction from the main story. Also we are being told this story from O’Hugh as an old man and readers have to wonder how he had such insight into Yu’s life along with his thoughts. At times the viewpoint shifts to other characters but there is generally an explanation given. 


Though it was a stumble, it in no way makes the novel bad. We are still treated to realistic, albeit very quirky, characters as they try to navigate through their problems. O’Hugh’s abilities aren’t as magical to the reader this go round because we were already introduced to them in the previous novel. However, how he uses them is interesting at times: such as going to the bottom of the ocean in Pangaea at the beginning of time to drown his pursuers. Or going to the mid-1980’s for a one-night stand, only he relives the moment time and again as his lover thinks it only happens once. 


Taking Yu Dai-Yung from a bumbling poet to a master gunslinger, felt an odd fit as well. He is an aristocratic poet that can fight and kill without blinking an eye. This probably would have killed the novel if we weren’t given such an interesting quest and such a bizarre sidekick in John Dead-man, the last of the Peking Indians. While the beautiful and sometimes surreal descriptions brought the novel back up to a higher level the abrupt ending left a bad taste in my mouth. I know that there is another part but I never liked the “if you want to know how the story ends buy the final installment,” –type ending. The novels are modeled after pulp novels (only the writing is much better) that would have an ending like this, but it leaves readers without a sense