Graphic Novel Review: Utopiates by Josh Finney [w/ Kat Rocha]

Utopiates: The Ultimate Bet with the MindUtopiates: The Ultimate Bet with the Mind by Josh Finney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Utopiates is a stunningly beautiful graphic novel with a strong story for the speculative fiction / sci-fi crowd. The artwork by Josh Finney and Kat Rocha deserves a special call out as it goes above and beyond in its layouts that refuse to be hemmed in–each page figuratively representing the psychologically compromised narration and twisting levels of reality. The cover art just doesn’t do the internal art justice.

The four chapters follow 3 addicted users of utopiates all beholden to the same dealer. Their dealer, the cross between The Matrix’s Morphius and Trinity with an asymmetrical haircut seen on the cover, hides behinds her epithets [“Spooky Bitch” and “The Prophet”] and her bible-quote laden orations. Utopiates are designer genetic drugs that hijack one’s consciousness with that of another.

The first user is alone in the world. He’s addicted to the “Family” strain that imbues a sense of belonging. The second addict has been dropped from his service as a soldier-for-hire with a government contract agency, Intersec, that has taken on the global war on terror. Intersec uses soldier strains of utopiates in lieu of actual training. The third addict is an ex-Amish lesbian, her whole story hasn’t fully emerged. All three are willing to kill for the Spooky Bitch and ultimately their next utopiates fix . . .

I received my copy of this novel directly from 01 Publishing through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “A Wolf is Made” by Jordan Ashley Moore

2 of 5 stars.

This vignette relates the circumstances of a hunt through the emotionally detached voice of one of the hunters. The fine line of the hunter to killer is toyed and crossed in the course of the tale. A hunter acts out of necessity or sport, a killer acts out of a darker passion.

A disconnect lies between the tone and what the narration claims. He claims to crave loyalty in others, and their approval. There is a competitiveness, and jealousy. However, emotion evades this tale. The facts are dryly laid bare not unlike in Camus’ The Stranger. Unfortunately, here it compromises the telling–it’s a journal of facts, devoid of heart.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Frost Burn by K.T. Munson and Nichelle Rae

Frost BurnFrost Burn by K.T. Munson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cast of likable characters elevates this other-world fantasy as 2 queendoms, bitter rivals from ancient times, are forced to deal with each other as their planets succumbs to global warming. As disasters rattle the nations, a small handful of heroes and royals from each lean on each other and their magic abilities to avert complete annihilation.

The original premise of a Fire Nation headed by fire-wielding magic-users versus a Frost Nation with ice magic seemed too dichotomous, too convenient. Though it’s interesting that the climate and living conditions of each nation would outright kill a citizen of the other. By the end, the history and mythology embrace the premise making it work. Even better, was the inclusion of third parties and rebels with agendas of their own. I expected, and perhaps wanted, more from the larger of the rebellions–it almost felt like a dropped plot.

Romance takes a healthy chunk of this novel without overwhelming it for the non-romance reader, such as myself. It’s a sub-plot and coda that never hijacks the greater tale, thankfully. The chapters alternate between Fire and Frost POVs, more or less. The countering views add nuance to the tale.

I received my copy of this novel directly from one of the authors after previously reviewing her thoroughly enjoyable pirate fantasy novel, 1001 Islands, which deservedly made my Best Reads of 2015 list.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Heart-Shaped” by Manuel Royal

1 of 5 stars.

This blessedly short tale is a spot-on re-enactment of the hetero-sexist, macho-misogynistic rant from the drunk guy in the bar that one actively evades and tries to ignore. The unrelenting 2nd person narration from said drunk guy fails to allow any countering points to the cliche battle-of-the-sexes diatribe, which means there’s no story here. Just sexist ranting. Perhaps trying for “humor”, but not achieving anything beyond “tired.”

Lost my thread. Okay, the human race–yeah, put your hand down. I know, sexual dimorphism goes back a billion years. But plants and bugs and prairie dogs ain’t advanced enough to get fucked-up in the head about it. So: the human race. Split in two by Mother Nature’s genetic axe, and that’s a bloody, vertical wound. Each half can never be a whole. There’s always blood between the two at the places they touch, but the alternative is drying up untouched and withering to a husk, and ergo there’s the War, and hence, us. Vigilance!

There can be a purpose to include a detestable, antiquated POV when the greater story calls for it either situationally or historically. Often, other POVs balance or ground it. Unfortunately, none of that is offered here. Nor any real information about the speaker, and nothing about the person he is speaking to whom the narrator doesn’t know.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Beyond the Turning Orrery” by Deborah Walker

5 of 5 stars.

A breathtakingly complex tale comes in a little package of 9 pages. Entire cosmological, philosophical and cultural systems are explained and rebuked in this masterful story told from a deeply compromised narrator. It is highly recommended.

Geoffrey, an elderly Maestro of a monastery, recounts his two previous sins in life on the cusp of creating his third. With much conflict, the sins profoundly challenge his conservative world views while drawing on his culture’s mythology.

His first sin starts as he allows himself to be led outside for his first time by his dreamer friend, Dominique:

Outside the Tin City, the cogs that move the world are close to the surface. Outside you can hear the very turning of the machine.

. . . We lay on our backs for a time, watching the planets moving smoothly along their celestial wires. The unnamed clusters of small blue stars weaved along their spiral pathways . . .

Admittedly, as I first read this section, I thought it was merely a beautifully metaphoric description of the world. But, no, this is a deeply held literal worldview with steampunk elements.

I picked a copper cricket out of the grass, and held it to my ears listening to the small tick of its tiny internal springs.

“If we’re wound, who winds us?” asked Dom.

I touched his chest. “How can you deny that?” I thumped his chest a little harder. I was afraid for him, and that made me scared.

Geoffrey’s 2nd and 3rd sins happen late in life, after a lifetime of atoning for the primary sin in which he had let his friend leave to explore the wild outer world and how it worked. A lifetime is spent staying sequestered and ending as the teacher of the unchallenged monastic life.

I was like a copper cricket, staring uncomprehending at the immense sky, I listened to the quiet tick of my life, winding down, all the time. It would soon stop at the whim of the Makers. Then all would be silence.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “HMS Invisible and the Halifax Slaver” by Iain Ishbel

2 of 5 stars.

Falling shy of being a full story, this vignette shows the meeting of two ships from different countries with differing world views during the time of the American Revolution. The historical fiction is overlaid with fantasy as the British ship’s water enchanter draws power from Hecate to face off against the American slaver’s necromancer.

The atrocities of American slavers don’t need embellishing to be made “more horrible”–they were quite horrible all their own. The fantasy overlay merely makes the story “not real” thereby divorcing it from the realities of history and ultimately lessening its power.

Noble as it is that the Brits wish to free the slaves from the terrible Americans that have drifted into Canadian maritime space, the flat treatment of the freed slaves does little show the humanity of the freedmen nor their benefactors.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: The Actuator: Fractured Earth by James Wymore & Aiden James

The Actuator: Fractured Earth (The Actuator, #1)The Actuator: Fractured Earth by James Wymore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This series opener spoofs the many sub-genres of fantasy and sci-fi with cliche while not letting itself in on the joke. It takes itself too seriously to embrace its comic absurdity, and not seriously enough when it comes to establishing ground rules for its own world. Riding the line between the two options, ultimately doesn’t work–however fun the ride may be.

Despite toying with sci-fi and speculative fiction, this novel is purely fantasy with a magic machine capable of reordering the world and everything in it to align with a single person’s whims. The god-machine, called the Actuator, is meant to merely test its abilities in a contained fashion at a covert military installation. During a test with 20+ monks, each a specialist in a different fiction genre, a saboteur manages to release the containment fracturing the world into hundreds of micro-verses overlaying the native landscape each territory formulated to reflect a single monk’s whims. A fantasy realm with dragons and orcs abuts a 60’s sci-fi state with aliens and UFOs which in turn leads to a steampunk western filled with dirigibles and goggled characters etc. As people and objects cross these realm borders, they transfigure to fit the new genre.

Either the tale could embrace the whimsy by calling the scenario magic and carrying on with the story, or it could assert a “holodeck explanation” that ultimately boils down to one of user perception overriding reality. It does neither. Whimsy, ala Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, would have been the safer choice as the conversion of matter is fully ignored and steampunk harpoons become energy beams without resultant explosions from the conversion of matter into pure energy. It would also explain the all-too-convenient plotlines with the characters easily running into each other monks as they cross the nation, without managing to run into nearly anyone else.

I’ve previously read and enjoyed Wymore’s short story, “Draconic King”. The writings of Aiden James are otherwise unknown to me.
[Check out my other reviews here.]