Books We Are Reading
Curated Book Reviews For Your Reading Enjoyment


The Brass Queen by Elizabeth Chadsworth

Reviewed by Scott T Barns


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 Barns


“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 of closure.


If you’re a fan of the first book this is a must. If you’re not a fan of the first book it means you haven’t read it yet and need to go pick up a copy. I’m looking forward to the third installment where we find out Watt O’Hugh’s triumph or failure over his enemies.

The Sword of Michael By Marcus Wynne

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

All of us have something we are passionate about, be it a hobby, our jobs, or our kids. Sometimes the passion overwhelms us and we just want to share. But if our passions are a bit odd or off the beaten path we have to do quite a bit of explaining along with our sharing. When people lose interest in our passion we can't always stop ourselves from talking about it. We may end up talking to ourselves, or writing a book. Dispossession is the passion here, and author Marcus Wynne practices what he preaches.


Fictional hero of The Sword of Michael Marius Winter is a shaman-warrior. He spends his time fighting the forces of evil and throwing out demons that hitchhike into our world through others. Marius surrounds himself with spirit guides and powerful friends to aid him in his battle. Marius is doing his shaman/depossessionist thing when he draws the attention of a dark sorcerer, one he has fought often before in different lives. Wynne tosses the reader right into the action...only to yank them right back out with heavy explanation and digression. Unfortunately it isn't just a one-off. Wynne continually launches into long, explanatory diatribes as the novel progresses.


Marius does a few routine depossessions and we learn just what that entails. He has a few run-ins with dark forces that depict what is normal for the character and introduce us to his friends: Dillon, the gunslinger warrior; Jolene, the love of his life and an avatar of the goddess or female spirit, and Sabrina, a biker that is also a shamanic healer. We also got to see the first use of the Sword Of Michael as it quickly dispatched a big baddy. But this engenders what I call the Pacific Rim question: If the sword is so powerful and has no real limitations, why not use it all the time to fight the evil doers?


A dark sorcerer kidnaps Sabrina and the team jumps into action to save her. Dillon and Marius run into a doorway to hell with guns blazing while Jolene stays behind and uses her powers to help. The men rescue their friend only to find out that it was a ruse so Jolene could be possessed and have her soul kidnapped. Now they have to go back to the same doorway and then descend into hell and fight seven demi-demons representing the seven deadly sins to save her.


Some novels aren't plotted out before starting them. The author has an idea and runs with it to see where it goes. Stephen King does this often. He uses the metaphor of digging the stories pre-formed like sculptures out of the sand. When it works, the method can produce a fantastic read that keeps you guessing; when it doesn't it just feels like whatever idea came up got plopped down on the page. I'm not sure if this novel was plotted out first or not but it didn't feel like it. It seems to start off being about something entirely different before changing to the hero descending into the underworld to save the love of his life. There are two different types of kidnapping (and why the women? Why wasn't Dillon himself snatched?) and two travels to the same place in the underworld. There is no clear antagonist. It just seems like all evil guys are out to get our hero. The whole thing is peppered with digression and telling versus showing. And the hero likes to "borrow" one-liners from other forms of popular media, though he really seems like the type who would have tons of his own.


The novel isn't a total loss--far from it. Marcus Wynne is a practicing depossessionist and actually explains the process in a very interesting way (actually the whole novel could have been stronger if dispossession was the focus over guns and witty quips). The seven demi-demons that represent the seven deadly sins were great. The amount of detail and effort put into these scenes really changed how I felt about the book. Wynne takes a page out of the Raymond Chandler book of writing and has someone kick in a door and start shooting every time the plot slows down, so there is never a dull moment.


Traitor's Blade By Sebastien de Castell

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

All of us tend to see ourselves as the good guy. We like to think our decisions were made with the best of intentions even if others had to get hurt due to a result of said decision. In a world where it is your job to meter out justice and protect those that can't protect themselves, what happens when the entire world judges you a traitor? Continuing to do what is right becomes difficult when everyone around you has already labeled you the evil you were trying to eliminate.


The king has been killed and his army of magistrates, The Greatcoats, have been disbanded and spread throughout the land. At the king's command, they stood down while he was killed and the rest of the land sees them as traitors. The first cantor, Falcio Val Mond, and two of his most loyal Greatcoats are reduced to bodyguard duty. The bodyguard duty will hopefully help the Greatcoats start their long trek back to some semblance of greatness they once had. Unfortunately, the man they are guarding is murdered and they are framed, further soiling their names. We are given an interesting tale and back-story at the get go. The world, its rules and its history are set up smoothly and simply. Though it seems like a historic tale, around 16th or 17th century Europe, there are a few light touches a magic pushing it into the realm of fantasy.


The three fleeing Greatcoats decide to join a caravan to help them hide from the duke's men. Unbeknownst to them, the caravan holds a person that may be able to reunite the kingdom under a new royal blood. The three Greatcoats see both potential and danger in this, but before they can act Falcio pledges his protection to a young girl in Rijou, a city under siege. The city has a yearly ritual called Ganath Kalila, the blood week, similar to the back-story in the movie "The Purge." The girl is set to be killed and Falcio sees his redemption in keeping her alive even if it kills him. However, all those that attack him soon find out that killing Falcio is no simple matter.


Sebastien de Castell comes out swinging with a strong debut novel. It is part swashbuckling musketeer adventure, part city under siege, part treasure hunt, and part search for redemption. The dialogue between our heroes is quick and witty without overdoing it. The action is well described in most cases, in a few the author decided to skip over certain scenes to add impact. It did feel like we were cheated of the missing action though. The history of the land is interesting, or what tidbits we get along the way.


There are a few problems. There are quite a few flashbacks to various times prior to the main story. While this was the vehicle that delivered the history we get, it also interrupted the flow of the narrative. And when the author showed us various points in Falcio's life it gets a bit confusing as to how old he is and how long he has been a Greatcoat. There seems to be several key events that push him into the life. Also there are a few times where his fighting ability are hinted at but not shown. This was especially annoying when his victory over the best swordsman in the world is glossed over twice. This happens again near the end of the novel with another important duel.


The politics of the land add another level or realism but the deceit and deception involved get a bit convoluted as the story progresses. There just seems to be too many strands to the diabolical motivations and the whole thing seems like it would unravel if too many people started to pay attention. Sure, the people are oppressed, but that just gives them more motivation to overthrow those in power.


There were also some great little nuggets sprinkled throughout. Though they weren't part of the main story, they added another level of immersion: the ninja-like assassins, the Dashini; the fairy tale of the Fey horse and the result of changing one; and the various saints that had names that were basically descriptions of what they could do.


All in all, The Traitor's Blade is very entertaining and very well written for a first time novelist. It is the first of a series so hopefully we'll get a better look into de Castell's world and learn the ultimate fate of the Greatcoats.

The Labyrinth of Stars By Marjorie M. Liu

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

It’s in our nature to put labels onto things or put them in nice, neat little boxes. Though we may have millions of these little mental boxes there is generally a clear line of good and bad. Things we like and are helpful are good, while things that hurt us or we disagree with we deem bad. But the main difference here is that we see the good as part of us and the bad as somehow alien or out there. The theme of Labyrinth of Stars is that eventually, in order to be great, we’ll have to embrace all parts of ourselves and use them to our advantage.


Maxine and Grant are home and happy. Maxine is pregnant with a baby that is both half light-bringer and half demon hunter. Grant is still healing from his crushed kneecap and trying to deal with his mantle of demon lord. But bliss doesn’t last as monsters from another dimension come ripping into their little demon-farm in Texas. Liu does a quick, efficient job of laying out the setting, powers (and their limitations), and plot in the first couple of chapters. It is a recap so that if you haven’t read the previous books you know what is happening, but it’s fast enough if you are a fan of the series you don’t bet bogged down with details you already know.


Grant, Maxine, and her little demon helpers have no trouble dispatching the demons that come at them only their attackers do something different, poisoning Grant to render his power useless so they can capture him. Maxine saves him and cures him fast enough but all of this was just a ploy. The actual plan that is put into motion originates from one of the beings with unlimited power, the Aetar. The Aetar cannot allow Maxine’s child to be born as it would be too powerful even for them. This seems like it would be a constant problem from the moment they discover Maxine is pregnant. One would think that the Aetar would attack Maxine relentlessly until they either succeed or they would just do something drastic like blow up the Earth.


The Aetar have found a way to get rid of Maxine, Grant, their baby, and all of the demons on the planet in one fell swoop. The only problem is that it might kill off all the life on the planet along with it. Maxine has to make a deal with the devil to save her child and search through friends and enemies to see who is really behind the attack.


In my opinion, planetary destruction would have been easier.


I think that genre writers that write in a different or new genre have their old ones bleed over. Stephen King has written a few mysteries that definitely have some horror elements in them. Jack Ketchum's western was way grosser than it needed to be. And Liu adds the over-description that one finds in romance novels (she also writes paranormal romance). There is an audience for this, but it falls more to romance readers as opposed to the sci-fi readers. All the over-description deals with Maxine having some sort of struggle, mental or otherwise, before overcoming it.


The mythology of the series was interesting: five super powerful demons have been imbued into one woman, making her invulnerable...until she has a daughter and passes the demon strength on. Though this story line is very similar to the story line in the comic book series, The Darkness (Image Comics, 1996-present). It also runs into the comic-book-invincible-hero problem. If your hero is super powerful or unkillable, you'll spend all your time trying to come up with ways that their powers are turned off or repressed so they can face real danger. This was something the Matrix sequels suffered from as well, not to mention a lot of Wolverine story lines. In Labyrinth of Stars author Liu explores some interesting worlds and creatures at times that didn't ring any specific bells.


The idea of seeing demons as individuals with feelings, thoughts, and dreams was a nice touch, having the demons as something inside of us instead of something outside, alien. But this again is very similar to an earlier idea, in this case the Clive Barker novella, Cabal (Collins, 1988). The difference here being that Maxine realizes that what she hunts and kills isn't some movie or video game bad guy who exists to do bad things and needs to be taken out, in Cabal, Boone was wrapped up in a plot to help the Night Breed.


Pre-used ideas (but not cliche) and over-description aside, Labyrinth of Stars provides an entertaining dark Urban Fantasy. Fans of the series are given a new satisfying installment, the fifth in the series, and new comers are granted a well-written dark thriller. Nothing new here, but some interesting takes on previous ideas.

Storm Siren By Mary Weber

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

There is a notion that the future generation will change the world for the better. They'll be able to see the mistakes of the current generation and make better choices. While I have faith in the younger generations and their power, especially their anger they feel as they realize the world isn't what they've come to believe, I think they can change the world now, while they are still young.


Nym has spent the majority or her seventeen years as a slave. She goes from one owner to the next leaving a path of destruction in her wake. Nym is an elemental, a being that can harness and use the elements to cause tremendous damage. Only Nym has no control over her powers, often killing others accidentally or through her rage. Nym is put on the auction block once more and is pushed harder than ever in front of a crowd. Her powers manifest for the world to see, but they lead to an advantage for the first time in her life as they knock her out.


Nym wakes up to find that she has been purchased by a proper lady who has put her up, in what appears to Nym, a palace. The Lady Adora, Nym's new owner, knows exactly what Nym is and she wants to harness Nym's powers to help fight a war that is raging through the three kingdoms. Nym is a very rare creature indeed, an elemental and the only female at that. Adora gives her the choice of joining with her or being executed. Not much of a choice. Nym meets the handsome Eogan, and the handsome Colin, two other teens with special powers (and a predictable dual attraction to her). Eogan begins to teach her how to control her powers the way he has taught Colin.


As Nym gradually begins to control her powers (realizing just how powerful she is), she quickly sees that she is going to be used as a weapon for killing. Nym tries to escape only to find that she and Colin are forced to use their powers to defend themselves. Nym sees that she can use her powers without killing and decides to come back and fight for the kingdom only to see betrayal all around her. She doesn't know who to trust, or who to turn to. But one thing is for certain, with her powers, there aren't many who can stop her.


There was an article in Slate magazine recently about adults being ashamed of reading YA fiction. Specifically for treating YA fiction the way one would treat literature. While I don't disagree with many of the points that were made in the article, I don't like the idea of shaming anyone for reading. The same thing was said about science fiction years ago and now quite a bit of it has made it to required reading lists in schools.


Mary Weber's writing may not make it onto required reading lists anytime soon but there is no need to be ashamed of it. There are some bumps here and there and sometimes the writing comes off as clumsy as a teenager, but Weber knows her audience well. The novel contains the usual clichés that are in YA fiction aimed at girls: love triangles, looking at oneself in the mirror frequently, all the good guys are beautiful, and all the bad guys are ugly. I think these clichés being omnipresent in YA has more to do more with audience demands/expectations than any fault of the authors. Though Weber did sidestep these clichés a bit by having the protagonist have a slight deformity and having something that little girls tend to love, horses in this case, be bloodthirsty meat eaters.


The author shows a real talent for world building, giving us a well fleshed out world with realistic hierarchy and politics. There was also a limitation, or cost, to the magic used. Giving characters powers clearly defined rules always makes for a better read than having them do anything that the situation requires. The novel could have done without the pulp type ending. As an adult I found it annoying, but as a teenager I probably would have found it cool.


If you’re a teenager, especially a girl, and are into dystopian/fantasy novels, Storm Siren is worth checking out. It is the first book in a trilogy so there are more adventures of Nym and her friends to come. Perhaps this will be the next Hunger Games or Divergent. If you're an adult who like reading YA, no need to be ashamed. You'll find a rich, fully developed world with well fleshed out characters populating it.


The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh By Steven S. Drachman

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Tall tales tend to grow as time goes on. Tales of near misses with death become stories of almost superhuman luck and agility. With no witness to the past, tales can become legend. On the other hand, if we were to ask the legends themselves we may get an entirely different story. And this story may be much more bizarre than the tall tale we started with.


Watt O’Hugh is a man well over a hundred years old and attempting to write his memoirs before he dies. He knows how much time he has, down to the day, and he doesn’t want to be forgotten by history. Watt can roam through time. Though he can’t change the future or the past, he can go in either direction any time he wishes. This is just one of his many talents. Drachman not only gives us a sense of urgency with the Herbert Selby Jr.-like writing before dying, but he immediately gives the protagonist and friendly, folksy manner of speech that is welcoming and disarming.


Watt had a illustrious life: he was a hero of the draft riots, served in the union army, became a hero once again out west, and then was recruited by J.P. Morgan to be the central character of a wild west show in New York City. One evening during the show, Watt noticed some men that aren’t part of the act. He notices in part because he doesn’t recognize them and in part because they are shooting real bullets at him. With quick thinking and some help from his ghosts and his sidekick, Emelina, he thwarts the attackers. The audience (that doesn’t know it is not part of the show) loves it. After the show Watt and Emelina make an attempt to go to dinner, but their plains are interrupted when two government agents try to give Watt a job he doesn’t want to take. Watt’s refusal leaves him in a Wyoming prison with a bullet in his chest and two broken legs. It was at the prison where his real adventures began.


Though he was sent to prison in order to infiltrate a group of men to avenge a burglary against J.P. Morgan he finds some unlikely friends. One is the first man Watt meets that can roam through time, Billy Golden. Billy is pure of heart and is able to change time. He wants to wage a war against the men of Sidonia and their magic. The other man is Mr. Tang, who is small, old, Chinese, and a woman. She has her own motives for enlisting Watt's help. Though everyone is wanting him to do something all Watt wants to do is find his true love, Lucy Billings, and save her.


This book has a lot going on. At times the reader feels like they are being pulled in multiple directions at once. Normally, I would say that this is distracting and ill advised for a writer. However, Drachman tells the story in this multilevel manner because that is how the character goes through his life. There are a few story arches opened up here but only one followed through. This is the first book of a trilogy but there is just a bit too much time spent on stories that will happen in later books. The book could have done a better job focusing on the Lucy Billings story.


Watt O'Hugh is a richly developed character that, though he seems indestructible at times, he is full of basic human thoughts such as: doubt, selfishness, and reluctance. The way the character jumps back and forth using both speech from the 19th century and from present day, that he learned from roaming time, makes us relate and like him that much more. All the other quirky characters are fully fleshed out as well, from the pure-hearted Billy Golden to the nefarious J.P. Morgan. Drachman gives us enough to care about the main players (even the bad guys) but not so much to draw away from Watt O'Hugh's story.


The Ghosts Of Watt O'Hugh is a fun read and leaves you wanting more. Luckily it is the first part of a trilogy. The book was reissued in May of this year along with the second installment. It is definitely worth picking up. It has a wide appeal of fans of westerns, sci-fi/fantasy, alternate reality, or just plain good writing.

Irenicon By Aidan Harte

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

History is filled with great people who have made tremendous impacts on the world. These people acquire many followers as well as enemies. They have their fair share of near misses with death that could have dramatically changed the outcome of mankind. What if a horse ran down Gandhi when he was in college in London? What if Lincoln drowned while canoeing down Sangomon River? What if Herod was successful in killing Christ as a baby? Mr. Harte attempts to answer the last question.


Rasenna is the strongest city in this parallel version of middle-aged Italy. Decades before the story begins, another powerful city, Concord uses a technology known as the Wave to send the river, Irenicon, through the center of Rasenna separating it into north and south and killing the leaders. Now Rasenna is torn apart by infighting. Sofia, by far the best warrior, is about to become the Contessa on her seventeenth birthday. She will inherit a city that will soon destroy itself. Harte throws us right into the action at the beginning. We get a good understanding of the city and how the denizens fight with one another: they use a distinct type of martial arts and flags to do battle. The only real problem at the beginning is that we are introduced to so many characters that it quickly gets confusing who is who. Aside from Sofia and Doc, the rest of the names are Italianesque and are easily confused with one another.


Concord decides to send one of its engineers to build a bridge in the middle of Rasenna, uniting the city once again. All other attempts to build a bridge have failed due to creatures known as Buio that live in the water. They attack and drown anyone who gets in the water or near it. But the engineer, Giovanni, has a device to keep the Buio at bay. The city is distrustful of Giovanni and his plans to build a bridge, especially Sofia. Both sides would have something to lose if they were able to easily cross back and forth. But Doc manipulates everyone into allowing the engineer to work. Concord wants the bridge for its army to cross to the south, it doesn’t really need Rasenna to be there.


Giovanni is initially aggravated by the fact he can't get the city to work together. Every time he gets a little ahead there is sabotage or a mini revolt. But he finds a way to unite them by finding an old statue that fell in the river. The statue represents what the city used to be. The controlling powers see nothing but trouble in the city uniting, however Doc sees it as a way to get everything he wants. A series of politically motivated murders brings Concord's wraith down on Rasenna. Sofia is captured and taken to the ultimate prison where she learns a secret that could destroy Rasenna from the inside.


Aside from the bumpy start with the names, we are introduced into an interesting and very thoroughly developed world. Harte sculpted his alternative history out of actual history and beliefs. This mirroring lends a certain level of believability and realism to the novel. Also the political power play makes Rasenna life relatable as politics have always been ugly even though each generation thinks this time is the worst. The religion built around the worship of the Madonna instead of Christ is also fascinating, but Harte keeps it firmly in the backstory where it belongs.


While the world building is top notch the action can be a bit strained at times. Art Bandiera was an interesting fighting form; Water Style was part Jeet Kune Do and part magical nonsense. Giving the protagonist too much power leads to The Matrix syndrome. If the protagonist can fight with little effort we all stop caring because there is no struggle. And the siege battle near the end of the book felt a little like the battle at the end of Army Of Darkness, a bit silly at times for a serious book.


Sofia's escape and journey abroad seemed misplaced and interrupted the flow of the novel. It did introduce some interesting characters like Levi and John Acuto. Also the concept of hiring soldiers to fight wars as being more civilized was an interesting idea. This part of the novel was well written, it just felt awkwardly wedged in. Along with that there were historian notes in between some of the chapters. It was something Jeff VanderMeer or Mark Z. Danielewski would do but it only went on for a bit and didn't really add anything.


All that aside, Irenicon was a fresh read that brought us into a wonderfully developed world. It is the first book of a trilogy but it does wrap itself up nicely. It has enough intrigue, action, and betrayal to keep you turning the pages. And, though I don't think it was meant this way, it is YA friendly and gives the young ones something to read other than lazy vampire novels.


Swords of Good Men By Snorri Kristjansson

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Neil Gaimen's American Gods is generally the novel that comes to mind when you think about the clash of ancient and current belief systems. His novel had the old Norse gods, amongst others, battling with the modern gods of the television and the internet. It is a fantastic book and worth the read. But there is only a small amount of human involvement in the book. And the gods work their messages through men, generally men with swords. Kristjansson was less interested in looking at belief systems and more interested in the men at the heart of the battle.


Ulfar and Geiri are nobles that are traveling the known world due to a youthful indiscretion that lead Ulfar to be exiled from his home for a few years. The two are cousins by blood but consider each other brothers. Their last stop before returning home is the town of Stenvik. Stenvik is a heavily fortified town that has an unseen internal trouble brewing. Upon arriving Ulfar falls in love with a beautiful woman only to find that she is the wife of the town's greatest warrior and possible future chieftain. The two also befriend the blacksmith who has his own hidden, troubled past. But these will quickly be the least of their concerns.


On one side of Stenvik, King Olav Tryggvason of Norway is making his way across the land, forcing the belief of the White Christ on inhabitants or killing them. His army grows daily but is unstable as it makes its way toward Stenvik's heavily fortified walls. On the other side are dozens of ships full of multiple armies. These armies are bound together by a woman named Skuld who speaks for the Norse gods. She has enough magic to make men fall in line but she is orchestrating a battle for a very specific reason.


Geiri is critically wounded in an accident. Before the leaders can react to the accident, Skuld's warriors begin attacking Stenvik. Stenvik's walls are thick and its warriors are strong, but as they are worn down repelling Skuld's warriors, King Olav is riding toward Stenvik ready to spread the word of the White Christ, or to spread the blood of Vikings.


Kristjannson made an interesting choice in creating this tale using some real history, such as King Olav Tryggvason, and mixing it with Norse mythology, such as Skuld, who was one of the fates. While there is a lot to mine from the Norse mythology, we are instead treated with a Viking world so richly created it swallows the reader whole. Again this was a fresh an interesting choice to make versus reviewing gods and their various battles. By time you get through the first few chapters you will have a good picture as to how life was lived by the Vikings, their politics, and their preparations for war.


We are given multiple viewpoints (perhaps too many at times). With the exception of a few of the minor characters, none of the rest are really painted as bad guys. Each is given reasons for doing what he feels is just. It is truly amazing for a first time novelist to fill a book full of such a rich milieu and multidimensional characters. Kristjannson puts the reader in a weird spot where they want to cheer for everyone, even on opposing sides, and every warrior that falls in battle wounds us a little.


The novel isn't perfect. As I mentioned there are too many viewpoints, it skips back and forth quite a bit and there are some perspective switches that lead to confusion. There are way too many bombastic speeches crammed into the book as well. While there are some memorable things said, the reader is hit with too many and it all jumbles together. The movie Braveheart has a very memorable speech and has seeped into popular culture, but the writer's were aware enough not to add any more. If you make such a strong impression with one thing said, you will rob it of strength with more and more similar attempts. Also all of the forces converging on one town leave us wondering why. Stenvik's main advantages are its fortifications, which are targeted during the siege.


There is never an attempt to shy away from gore and violence in Swords of Good Men. While this adds another layer of realism I think it desensitizes the readers a bit. We are overwhelmed by the violence from about the midpoint on, and when the more important characters are wounded or killed it just doesn't pack the same punch it could have.


Overall this was a very well written novel for a first time novelist. It is a good bit of historical fiction, looking at how King Olav forcibly spread Christianity in Norway, mixed with mythology, Skuld and the Norse gods, and straight up war/fantasy fiction. The description of the Berserkers alone is worth reading the book. It is the first of a trilogy, and if the next two are as half as good as the first they are worth a read.

Known Devil By Justin Guatainis

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Once I got past the elves in the first paragraph (elves as bad guys, really?) I enjoyed Known Devil immensely. And don’t worry, the elves segue into far more fearsome creatures.


Justin Gustainis is the king of supernatural detective stories. We have reviewed three of his books here before, The Hades Project, Black Magic Woman, and Sympathy for the Devil. Known Devil is similar in tone to Sympathy.


Once again the hero is a hard boiled, human cop-detective (say that three times fast.) Stan Markowski works for the Scranton, Pennsylvania police department. His partner is Karl Renfer, a vampire. The book opens with the detectives having a coffee break inside Jerry’s Diner when two elves try to hold up the place. The elves are desperate for loot so they can buy the latest designer drug, slide.


The cops bust them without much trouble. The trouble is, supernaturals (supes for short) can’t become addicted to drugs. It’s impossible. Everybody knows it. (Except for goblins, of course—they take to meth like cold sores to prom queen’s lips.) This could bring an ugly new dimension to the drug wars.


Thus begins an investigation into the supernatural criminal world of Scranton. The hold-up is quickly followed by a shootout between mafia kingpins. A bomb destroys the unofficial leader of the supes, a vampire. All hell begins to break loose.

Detective Stan lives with his daughter Christine, a vampire like Karl, and from the beginning we get the sense that she is in danger, either from slide or from the gangsters Stan is trying to bring down. Christine has a neat personality and the father/daughter scenes are some of my favorite.


The plot can be summed up with occult crimes detective Carmela Aquilina’s words, “A new drug on the streets, addicted supes going crazy, and a gang war, to boot. God, I love this job!”


All of this ends up being peripheral to a race war between certain members of the community and the supes reminiscent of the conflicts between humans and mutants in the X-men. In Known Devil, the “Patriot Party” wants to cut property taxes in half and bring about corresponding cuts in government services, cuts the Patriot Party aims squarely at “poor people, unwed mothers, or people with substance abuse problems…”


Besides hating on poor people, unwed mothers, and addicts (Gustainis throws in gays as well), the Patriot’s primary objection is to supernaturals.


“Since supes weren’t human, their argument went, they couldn’t be considered citizens and therefore had no basis to claim civil rights.” Fortunately this ill-disguised slam on the tea-party is followed by detective Stan’s observation, “I wondered if that meant the supes didn’t have to pay taxes, either.” Stan’s matter-of-fact sense of humor is his most redeeming quality and one of the principal attractions of Gustainis’ work.


The intrusion of a contemporary political attack eliminates the possibility of Known Devil delivering a universal message on tolerance. You’re either going to cheer the book on or cringe at the stereotyping of tea party politics, but you aren’t going to absorb any meaningful lessons.


Like Gustainis’ other books, Known Devil isn’t really a who-done-it. Most of the clues comes out within the first third of the novel and the rest can be guessed at. The fun comes in watching the police bring the perps down—and in reading the fabulous dialog. Stan has to be one of the funniest cops since Eddie Murphy played in Beverly Hills Cops I.


On the negative side, I would have rather seen the supernaturals act a bit more uncanny. These supes walk around like people, eat, drive cars, and get heartburn just like the rest of us. They are plagued by the same personality disorders and bad hair days. Even the vampires prefer to get in a gunfight than to use their super strength. Apparently they can fly...so why don't they? I would be flying all over the place if I could do it. Apart from a few notable exceptions, most of the action could have taken place in a Mario Puzo novel set in present day.


All in all, Known Devil will satisfy supernatural detective fans and is a good place to start for anyone wishing to dip a toe in this subgenre. The theme can be summarized by a quote Gustainis chose for his opening:


All sin tends to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is what is called damnation. – poet W.H. Auden

Everthing is Epic By Michael C. Keith

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Short story collections are always a mixed bag; it's their very nature. With the exception of authors like Amy Hempel and Raymond Carver, you very rarely get quality stories throughout. But if you were to layout a collection you should at least attempt to keep some form or theme the way a good music album can.


Everything Is Epic runs the gamut of every type of story from horror/sci-fi to literary character driven stories. A man who exaggerates about everything sees aliens. A father always keeps flashlights for a very dark reason. Nature decides it has had enough and fights back. A young boy finds confidence learning about his ancestors. A son turns violent over Hunter's Pie. A soldier tries to make things right, but only hurts everyone. A doctor experiments with patients with horrifying results. A man attempts to spend eternity with the literary greats. Overly polite behavior has harsh effects. A couple gets a chance encounter with one of The Beatles. These are just some of the stories contained within but a good example how they run.


As I stated above, there is no real reason to collect these stories together other than being written by the same person. The lack of balance left me disoriented reading the collection, which you can take as good or bad. Personally I like to have some underlying theme or structure to collections. At the very least they could have been grouped within the collection: have all the sci-fi stories together, then character-driven stories, and then horror. Though, as a guess I'd say the stories are laid out this way to distract the reader from some of the weaker ones.


The flash fiction (less than a thousand words) was definitely the weakest of the bunch. Each short piece had a Richard Matheson-esque twist ending. The problem with making all of your flash fiction end with twists is that you have to use some gimmicks early on to throw the reader off. If you've ever seen the old Twilight Zone you'll see that there is going to be a twist from a mile away. Another problem is most of the twists are random and have no real reason for happening, not to mention being very strained. At the end of each flash piece I found myself mildly annoyed, and quickly forgetting what I just read.


The non-speculative stories are definitely the better end of the bunch but they are nothing to write home about either. I would have preferred to read an entire collection of this type of story. The character development was uneven from story to story. Too much time was devoted to the plots instead of the characters. The best of the bunch was the final story, "Over The Border." It is the story of a writer who gets stuck in a lie and has to keep running with it. It was also the second longest story, which makes me think the others were just rushed through to get to the twist or to qualify for flash fiction.


The last story of the collection shows that the author really has some talent. Besides "Gertrude's Grave" and "Over The Border", the rest of the stories are largely forgettable. Pick it up for those two stories but skip the rest.

The Weredog Whisperer By Susan Abel Sullivan

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

Where else to start a madcap romp through were-tackiness but at a roadside attraction? Middle-aged Bertram Tidwell wants to have children and narrator Cleo is—at best—a noncommittal thirty nine. They run a trial by adopting a pit bull terrier named Luna and taking their nieces on a vacation to Florida.

But of course they have to stop at a roadside attraction dubbed The Werewolf Whisperer en route. There the oddball proprietor Tobias T. Talbot—or perhaps his Chinese crested dog—falls in love with Luna. The dog-man actually begins sending flowers and love letters to the pit bull terrier.

Weird. Of course, Cleo and husband Bertram Tidwell are no strangers to weird. In their last adventure Bertram was possessed by the spirit of Elvis Presley, who had previously been holed up in a tacky velvet painting.

Fans of Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama won’t be disappointed by the sequel. The Weredog Whisperer introduces a new protagonist, new adventures, and a completely new dynamic, while retaining Cleo Tidwell’s irresistible southern narration.

Cleo bounces from one funny observation to another, capturing boatloads of slightly embarrassing Americana along the way. It’s hard to pick a favorite line, but “All I can say is thank God for Speedos” certainly ranks up there. The humor contains just enough of an eww factor to make it divine.

After her unfortunate encounter with the Chinese crested dog, Luna the pit bull terrier begins to show some human tendencies—such as using the commode instead of taking a walk. Cleo begins to have suspicions that something above her usual state of abnormal is going on when Luna receives a love letter and flowers. But in the middle of a doggie show when her Luna (wearing a blue leotard with a hole cut out for the tail) transforms into a girl of 15 in front of everyone, she’s more than freaked out. She’s positively floored.

The family adopts Luna instantly.

I won’t spoil the fun by any more reveals. Suffice to say that my wife has already requested a copy of her own.

One thing I like is that this is a family friendly book. By this I mean that not only is The Weredog Whisperer totally appropriate to recommend to ages teen through adult, but that the Tidwell family actually gets along. Even Cleo’s mother-in-law, contrary to standard fare, is a major support. Who knew you could write a story featuring a functional family?

If The Weredog Whisperer doesn’t have you busting a gut then your sense of humor has definitely gone…well, you know the rest.



Vyrkarion: The Talisman of Anor By J. A. Cullum

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

When you think of the word Wizard an image of an old man with long white hair, a long white beard, a long cloak (generally with stars on it), and a staff of some sort comes to mind. I'm not sure why this image is so engrained. Names such as Merlin, Gandalf, and now Harry Potter are attached with the term. But wizardry could be something that you are born with and could apply to any race, or gender.


Vyrkarion is a living crystal granting immense power to the wizard that wields it. The only problem is that the most powerful human wizards are all male and Vyrkarion only works with female wizards. The guardian of the crystal is gravely wounded but a chance meeting with Alanna Cairan, the Tamrai of Fell, lands the crystal in her hands. Alanna is a healer who has the potential to be a great wizard if she receives the proper training. Unfortunately, the most powerful human wizard, Jerevan Rayne, the Wizard of Leybrun, is wounded in a battle with some of the Isklarin (were-lizards) wizards. Right off the bat we are introduced to people with confusing names and titles that are used interchangeably. All the major characters seem to have this problem and it does wear on the reader over time.


At the same time, a half god, half mad king, Rhys Cinnac, is making his way toward Ninkarrak, the capitol, where it is prophesied the current king will die and Rhys will take over. The king's son, the crippled Aubrey, is destined to become the most powerful wizard. But there is a plot to take him out before he has a chance to grow into his power and even his closest guards are in on it.


Jerevan heals, but Alanna refuses his training because he has a bad reputation and she is a noblewoman. She gets kidnapped by Aavik, the evil wizard of the Isklarin, and rescued by Jerevan. Only after that does she start to trust him and the two begin their long, arduous, and boring (for the reader and apparently the characters) training sessions. Jerevan tells Alanna that they can link using Vyrkarion, increasing her powers quickly, but the link will be forever and the weaker wizard could be swallowed by the stronger. But they may have no choice as the plot to kill the king and his son goes into motion and Rhys is making his way toward Ninkarrak.


Wizard is a unisex word but it seems like there should be a word for female wizard like there is a word for male witch--enchantress, maybe? We are hit with the word wizard too much from the get go. Their powers are never clearly defined and they seem to be able to do whatever the plot needs them to at the moment. The main power they have seems to be shooting "lasers" at one another and then either dying or falling unconscious, either of which seems to be a huge problem in the heat of battle. The wizards in this novel keep falling over like fainting goats and it makes me wonder why someone doesn't just walk up and stab them in the face when they are unconscious. Also the energy battles are just as boring as the ones seen in the Harry Potter movies where they just kind of stand there and wait for someone to win.


There seems to be little bursts of action--that really don't contain that much action--followed by long passages of boringness. Alanna is rescued by Jerevan, whom she has a strong attraction to, and then she spends the next few months memorizing wizard oaths, concentrating on candles, and learning telepathy that she can't really do, so she is just thinking…One of the other love stories is between Minta, Aubrey's wet-nurse, and Thrym a were-lizard that is a good guy because he says so. She meets him when he sneaks into her room and is evasive as to why he broke in (he is a thief). Nothing like completely trusting and falling in love with one of your enemies as they are breaking into your room, stealing stuff.


The most interesting romantic subplot was between Elath and Fal, two mercenaries hired to help the wizards. Fal is mutilated while helping the wizards and Elath sticks by his side. These seemed to be the only two that were in love that weren't physically beautiful. They both had flaws and had to struggle more than the rest of the characters, yet they weren't really given much exploration.


Overall the book was predictable and a bit stale. It's appropriate for the YA crowd, giving them something to read other than vampire novels. If you are a fan of the series or if you are looking for a mild romance/fantasy, Vyrkarion will fill that need. But if you want something original you may want to skip this one.

A Short Stay in Hell By Steven L. Peck

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

There is much talk about forever and eternity. With love songs and chick-flicks aside, a large portion of religions has something to say on the matter of eternity. Most people go through life accepting that they will just go on indefinitely, we have no other way to look at things. But people don't often stop and ask what forever means. Steven L. Peck is someone who has taken a stab at the concept, and after reading A Short Stay In Hell you won't be able to stop thinking about it.


Soren Johansson was a good Mormon and did everything he thought was correct in life. He was surprised to find himself in hell when he died. He finds that he didn't worship the one true religion (Zoroastrianism in the novel), and now he is cast into a hell by a god he has never heard of. But hell isn't forever; it is a test. In Soren's case he is tossed into a giant library. The library is the same as The Library Of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges: the library contains every book that has ever been written and every book that could ever be written. To get out all he has to do is find the book that contains his life story. But as Soren discovers how many books there are, he realizes that forever is much shorter than the time it will take him to find the right book.


This very short novel is extremely impressive. Told in a very formal and detached manner, we are shown a hell that is as familiar as it is horrifying. The target audience (of any novel really) is avid book readers. It is interesting to present something that seems delightful, even heavenly, as a library in such a horrific manner. The most convincing aspect of the novel is the narrator's acceptance of it all. He never stops to question the reality of what is happening; instead he learns the rules and develops relationships with others trapped with him.


Peck is good enough to know that as fascinating as his premise is, he needed to add extra amounts of drama to keep the reader's interest. Peck explores concepts like having a relationship for hundreds of years, having suicidal thoughts and actions (when every time you die you are just reborn the following day), and what horrible things people can do to each other given enough time. The cult that crops up in the novel seems less surprising than expected. What is interesting is the fact that if you are reborn in perfect health every morning, there is a limitless amount of physical torture that can be done to those the cult captures.


The greatest thing any novel can do is to resonate with the reader. A Short Stay In Hell will stay with you for a long time after reading it. The book is only a little over a hundred pages yet it spans the course of 160 billion years. And at the end of reading it you'll have a better understanding of forever, and maybe even a fear of it.


The Braided Path By Donna Glee Williams

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

The Braided Path is a quiet book, full of good characters trying to discover their path. In fact, the metaphor of the path runs throughout the book. The path, the rope, the braids that bind individuals together into couples and couples together into communities. It is a love story, a coming of age story, and a fable. Mostly it is about characters seeking their place in their world.


While this is undoubtedly an invented universe, I pictured The Braided Path taking place in the remote villages in the Andes Mountains, a single stone-hewn path leading from one village to another to another with jagged saw-tooth mountains as far as the eye can see, each taller than the last, snow covered and impassable. Each villager knows only his village and a little more, those towns to which he has walked on the stone-hewn path, and those few more he has heard about. The villagers are naïve in the way natives on remote islands can be naïve, believing that cities and ships and yes, even the ocean are but tales used to frighten children. There is only the path, and the youth must find their place on it, their home village, their trade, their lovers and their family. Anyone who travels to more than a handful of villages is considered a Far-Walker.


Cam and Fox are two such youth. Friends at first, and then lovers, the two walk past villages and more villages, trying to find their limits. Cam is drawn ever upwards, and Fox towards the mythical ocean at the bottom of the world, until one day when Cam hears about hot springs in the snowy reaches Fox refuses to climb. After much distress, Cam abandons her, intending to explore the warm-water oasis and return in a few short weeks.


But that never happens.


Cam crosses the pass between the great peaks only to find the path intersects more paths. Soon he is swept away (literally, but I won't spoil the surprise) and fights to survive in a world completely beyond his experience, the world of commerce and congestion.


Meanwhile Fox finds herself with child. Snow blocks the path Cam took over the mountains, and down below, an earthquake destroys the path. The villages become more isolated than ever; trade from down below stops. If the villagers don't come together their way of life will be destroyed forever. Even survival is questionable, especially for the young mother and her newborn.


There are many precious characters in The Braided Path. Len, Cam's mother and a lifeline to Fox. Nish, the visiting fisherman who claims his very house borders the ocean. Lia Midwife who fights like a badger to keep Fox's baby alive--and has the badger's temper. Genia, the captain of The Duck, a river trader who treats her crew as family, unless the ship gets untidy. Then watch out.


The Braided Path defies genre description. It is a fantasy without magic. A romance without quarreling courtship. An adventure without villains. Most of all, The Braided Path celebrates the quest for purpose at the heart of so much human endeavor while at the same time celebrating humanity itself, friendship, love, wounded communities drawing together in a struggle shared.


This is the perfect book to read on a sunny day with the heat on your back. Not because a thunderhead would frighten you--it is not that kind of book--but because it is a sunny kind of book. The kind that makes you glad you read it, the day a little brighter.

Shards of History By Rebecca Roland

Reviewed by Adria Laycraft

Shards of History is a passionate tale that will engage both young adults and more weathered fantasy readers. Author Rebecca Roland brings us an exciting new fantasy world where using magic burns your memories away, fierce flying creatures are more than they seem, and the ultimate sacrifice is the price of magical protection.


In this story characters reveal their depths slowly, and Roland even allows the antagonists to have their own story arc. However, readers barely have time to catch their breath between the escapades of our heroine Malia, and will cheer on this feisty protagonist as she struggles to prevent a senseless war while battling her own prejudices and preconceptions. The story propels the reader with high conflict that mostly makes sense, drawing us along willingly on Malia's quest.


Malia's people are the Taakwa, and they fear the flying beasts of the cliffs known as Jeguduns. Meanwhile a much graver threat resides in the Outsiders gathering an army to invade the valley. Roland drives the stakes ever higher as the truth of Malia's situation is revealed, creating a page-turner that I didn't want to put down.


The cultural world-building Roland did for Malia's people was perhaps my favorite part of this book. Here in this matriarchal society a woman can put a man's things out the door if she feels mistreated in any way, and yet Malia still has to fight for her freedom and independence, still has to work against those who would use her for her power, and still has to overcome her own issues of self-doubt to find the truth. It reminds me of LeGuin's Always Coming Home in this way.


The Taakwa, Jeguduns, and Outsiders are all fully developed and unique from each other. Within each race we get believable 'bad guys' that are truly frightening. On top of this great foundation of world-building we enjoy solid character development where our protagonist has to face her darkest demons, be braver than everyone else, and win the day through her own efforts and sacrifice. Malia, despite her youth and inexperience, is a true leader and proves it time and again, making her easy to root for. Meanwhile her companions are just as likable and believable without stealing the show.


Roland, an Odyssey graduate who writes both fantasy and horror, has also compiled a collection of stories in the same world called The King of Ash and Bones, and Other Stories. This four-story collection explores, among other things, the life of exile Rasmus, digging deeper into the culture of the Taakwa and their practice of exiling those who do not conform to established belief systems.

Shards of History is published by World Weaver Press, an exciting small press that supports new authors of fantasy. They obviously take pride in their work, creating strong cover art and solid promotional efforts.


In short, Shards of History contains fabulous world-building, believable characters, high action, and captivating creatures. This is a read I'd highly recommend for readers of fantasy looking for something completely new to devour.

After Death Edited by Eric J. Guignard, Illustrated by Audra Phillips

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Contributing Authors: Andrew S. Williams, Alvaro Rodriguez, Edward M. Erdelac, Steve Rasnic Tem, Lisa Morton, John M. Floyd, Kelda Crich, David Steffen, Aaron J. French, Sanford Allen, Josh Rountree, Brad C. Hodson, James S. Dorr, Ray Cluley, Jonathan Shipley, Jacob Edwards, John Palisano, Bentley Little, Jamie Lackey, Robert B. Marcus, Jr., David Tallerman, Christine Morgan, William Meikle, Peter Giglio, Simon Clark, Kelly Dunn, Trevor Denyer, Steve Cameron, Larry Hodges, Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Emily C. Skaftun, Joe McKinney, Josh Strnad, Allan Izen, & John Langan


Publisher: Dark Moon Books (April 5, 2013)



Death is something that has touched everyone and something we all have to face at some point. What comes next is the ultimate mystery and a question all of us ask at one time or another. All religions and mythologies offer up some answers, but with so many different ones how can we be sure. Is there an everlasting paradise, torment, limbo, or something in between? After Death is an anthology of 34 stories that attempt to answer the question in some form or another.


After Death is an impressive collection with tales such as: A man tries to remember his life while waiting on the river Styx. An evil man kidnaps a seven-year-old, who desperately wishes for something, and gets it. An unemployed man wanders Aokigahara, the Japanese suicide forest, with an ill planned out end in mind. Can sleep be preparation for death? In the future your body can be renewed if you die, you just better not miss payments. Reincarnation can bring you back to your loved ones but only to be an animal by their side, watching as they move on without you. Joe Strummer finds himself in the afterlife, and the order he is supposed to follow though his very being rejects order. Each belief system is taken over by the new more powerful one, but some of the old beliefs don’t want to be trapped. The afterlife is a period of endless waiting, only some don't want to wait; some want to take over. The afterlife may not just be for humans. If everything dies and moves on, what happens if God dies and moves on? The anticipation of torment truly can be worse than the torment itself. A man who studied the afterlife his whole life dies but finds a way to come back; the story he tells makes everyone want to live forever.


This was truly an exceptional collection of stories. Anthologies are always a mixed bag; it is their nature. Though there weren't any bad stories included within, there was a handful that was easily forgettable. The reincarnation into an animal (whether as punishment or reward) is a tired trope. The reincarnation stories were well written they've just been done too many times before. A few stories that really stood out were "The Reckless Alternative," "Like a Bat out of Hell," "I Was The Walrus," "My Father Knew Douglas MacArthur," and "Hellevator." I felt the final story, "With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts" by John Langan, was a bit of a weak note to end on. Langan took an original stance on the afterlife that was broad and powerful, but the execution was lacking. It was a dry description of an intriguing afterlife that was in ruins. It was similar to "The Dream-Quest Of The Unknown Kadath" by Lovecraft, but it doesn't have the same impact or resonance on the reader.


Guignard introduces each story in a Rod Serling-esque manner, both laying out a general idea of the story and setting the mood in which to read it. Editors can be a blessing or a curse (depending on where the writer's story gets used, or doesn't). A bad editor may stack big names in an anthology, generally one in the front and the rest in the back. Guignard is of the former. The stories are placed perfectly: the first stories act as an introduction and the last stories work as a good closing. The stories that are similar are placed far enough apart not to be mixed up. And enough different visions are represented to hold our interest.


Overall I found this to be a great collection that I looked forward to each time I picked it up. Even the weaker stories wouldn't keep me from reading it again. It may not answer the questions of what lay beyond death, but it will give you something to think about. And ultimately give us pause to think about our lives and whether we live them the way we truly want to or not.


Amazon link:


http://www.amazon.com/After-Death-Eric-J-Guignard/dp/0988556928/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1393282526&sr=8-2


Ex-Heroes By Peter Clines

Reviewed by Nu Yang

When the front cover blurb on your very first book says, “The Avengers meets The Walking Dead...” readers expect to read a pretty good book. After all, it's being marketed after one of the biggest movies and one of the most popular TV shows on right now. Plus, superheroes and zombies are hot—like volcano hot. It's going to attract fans of both genres, fans like me!


Overall, I enjoyed the book. Ex-Heroes has a unique premise: superheroes in the zombie apocalypse?! And a really cool setting: Los Angeles. Most of the time, you have survivors of a zombie apocalypse taking shelter in the middle of nowhere, but it was pretty entertaining to have the superheroes and human survivors take out zombies—including celebrities—in the city of Angels. By the way, the more famous the celebrity, the more points you get for that kill!


Clines doesn't call the undead zombies, they're “exes,” as in ex-humans. Haven't seen that term before.


As a Southern California resident, it was cool to picture downtown Los Angeles littered with exes. Clines did a good job with the setting and making it believable that superheroes can also take part of the zombie apocalypse.


Clines gives each superhero some good backstory of what life was like for them before the exes existed. Even though superheroes played the point of view characters, it still felt like a very human book. Each superhero plays an important in the story, and without giving much away, let's just say none of the superheroes are wasted in this ensemble piece.


I like how Clines ramped up the conflict. Not only do we have the undead roaming the streets, we also have a street gang on the other side of town to deal with. Zombies and dangerous criminals? What else is there? Oh, yeah, every superhero needs a villain, and guess what? Villains also exist in this zombie apocalypse, but I won't spoil you on who the villain is or what this villain can do.


Clines doesn't shy away from the gore. It's a zombie book, right? We have missing limbs, blood, headless corpses, even a child-ex that “(crashes) down a dozen blocks away in a splash of bone and meat.”


Now, there were some cons for me in this book. This is more a personal preference, but I felt like there were too many POV characters. The book uses flashbacks (a pet peeve of mine) titled THEN, each one is told from a separate superhero's POV, then in the present titled NOW, it's told in third person. At the beginning, it was hard for me to keep track of each character and when it slipped in THEN, sometimes, I lost track of which superhero we were time-traveling with. At least with The Avengers, each superhero got his own movie before they assembled (haha). Clines also went back and forth a few times by calling superheroes by their superhero name (ex. Cerberus) and their civilian names (ex. Danielle). More things for me to remember. It's okay for a character or two, but when you have six superheroes as your main characters, it can get messy. It doesn't help when one of them is named Zzzap either.


I also noticed that perhaps Clines has something against strong Asian women (*clears throat*). Each time an Asian woman was introduced, he described them as “bitchy.” Example: “Who the hell is Sandra Oh?” when the group thinks they see the undead actress. “From Grey's Anatomy. The bitchy Asian woman” is the answer. And then there's, “One of the civilians, a bitchy former LA city councilwoman named Christian Nguyen...”


Other than that, Ex-Heroes was a fun read that geeks everywhere might enjoy.


Clockwork Heart By Dru Pagliassotti

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

With all of our technological advances we are still left scratching our heads when it comes to interacting with one another. Human knowledge doubles every 12 months*. We have statistics to back up everything, though we generally ignore them if they go against what we believe. What if society was built around analyzing and using the data that we are always collecting? Would we be better off or would the same old problems keep cropping up?


Taya is an Icarus. She soars above the city of Ondinium delivering messages, sort of like a human carrier pigeon. One day as she is resting above the city an explosion rips her out of her thoughts and she dives in to save the passengers on a wireferry. Right off the bat Pagliassotti throws us into her the world she created without long explanations of it or its mechanics. We are forced to learn on our feet and it wouldn't hurt for other sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk writers to take note.


Taya ends up saving the life of an exalted and her child. She is given a hero's treatment and ends up meeting one of the youngest exalted to hold office, Alister, and his brother, Cristof, who has given up his life as an exalted to live among the people. Taya finds herself attracted to both the charming Alister and the cold Cristof. But one of them is not what he appears. Taya finds herself swept up in a plot that could disrupt the Great Engine. The Great Engine is a giant analytical machine that is the heart of Ondinium; all of the important decisions are made off of the Great Engine's programs. But who is trying to help her and who is trying to kill her?


As I said, the novel starts of with a bang and runs along smoothly at first. Pagliassotti doesn't waste words in setting everything up but as soon as the brothers are introduced the novel starts to jerk and bump along. The brothers are supposed to be opposites: Alister is the smooth, handsome politician and Cristof is the ugly, mean mechanic. However this point is made over and over again. I'm not sure if it is an attempt to foreshadow or distract, but it doesn't work well either way.


The world is very interesting and we are allowed to explore it at our own pace as clues and descriptions are slowly dripped in. Everything in this steampunk world has an explanation as to why it's there and how it works. There are too many speculative novels out there where things happen just because, or that don't bother with explanations because "it's magic." The explanations are handled beautifully. I never felt jerked out of the book when characters were going over something.


The biggest problem I saw with the book is that the main story and climax happen about 50-70 pages away from the end. Everything is basically wrapped up and resolved with the main conflict yet the books continues on with a secondary problem. It seems an odd choice, unless the secondary plot was opening up the next book. But even then the order could have been flipped without affecting the next book in the series.


Overall, not a bad little book. It is a little rough around the edges but it will take you to an interesting new world with relatable characters.



*Schiling, D.R. (2013, April 19) Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours. Industrytap.com

The Wild Boys By Travis Heermann

Reviewed by Donna Glee Williams

The cover of Travis Heermann’s new novel completely relieves me of my usual reviewer’s angst about spoilers; it tells you everything I might pussyfoot around in order to let you discover it yourself. The fierce and furry canine countenance misting into the profile of a teen beauty, along with the tag-line (“One 16 year old girl versus a plague of beasts,”) the title (The Wild Boys), and a prominent full moon—in case you’d missed the point—are billboard-sized road-signs: Welcome to Werewolf County, population one pint-sized high school girl named Mia, her Shar-Pei, her Japanese mother, her FBI dad, the icy-eyed ex-marine Slade with a toothy secret and plans for the new master race that will depose ordinary humans from the top of the food chain.


While the tell-all cover design makes sure that readers of this book know exactly what they’ve signed on for, it’s in some ways a disservice to the author’s careful suspense-building craft in the first third of the book. The creepiness accelerates gradually through the ominous goings-on at the spooky Saint Sebastian’s School for Children, animal mutilations, missing students, an off-screen attack on a runner on a lonely nighttime jogging path, and rumors of unknown carnivores stalking the streets of Omaha. Both during the build-up and when the gloves come off, the scary scenes reveal a writer who has definitely put in his time in front of big-screen classic horror:


He felt eyes on the back of his neck, and looked over his shoulder. The path was empty, but his legs found fresh speed. His breath pumped in and out of him, hoarse and dry with exertion.


A sound filtered through the undergrowth, a heavy rhythmic breathing, matching his, pacing him, leaves and branches pushed aside for the passage of something he could not see. Was it his breathing or something else he heard? Fear bloomed like ice, and he kept looking over his shoulder for signs of something he knew chased him. How many of them were there? His legs and arms pumped, pounding his sneakers, stretching the naked flesh of his legs, the largest portion of meat.


When a writer tackles a classic genre pattern like, oh, say, teen werewolf horror, for example, one of the challenges is dealing with the tension of being faithful to the form while bringing something new to the game. So, what makes this werewolf story different from other werewolf stories? There’s the main character’s Japanese roots—grounded in the author’s experience as an exchange teacher in Japan. There’s also a scientific rather than supernatural underpinning to lycanthropy, a choice that opens the door to fun with secret military intelligence operations and public health considerations. There’s the fact that the story doesn’t end with everyone unchanged from their adventures, ready to go back to their safe and normal lives. And, not least, there’s Mia’s dog, Deuce. As far as I know, Deuce is the first Shar-Pei to appear as a main character in a horror novel and, hey, who doesn’t love a Shar-Pei?