Novel Review: Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

Braineater JonesBraineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What Harry Dresden is to the wizarding world, Braineater Jones is to the zombie world. Both reinvent the detective noir genre for their purposes, though this one also plays it as historic fiction showing depression era, post-prohibition America in a gritty urban landscape with zombies.

True to its genre roots, the humor largely remains dry as Jones tries to figure out both his former life and his current surroundings. His memories continue to evade him as he learns of a world filled with talking decapitated heads, prostitute zombies and nearly everybody looking for the rejuvenating power of hard alcohol. [It staves off decay.]

Slowly, other sub-genres work their way in with Nazis coming to light and finally even steampunk robots powered by alcohol-pickled zombie brains. And yet it works . . .

Detective noir and urban fantasy play well together, and a few series set in the modern era employing zombie detectives, but it’s nice to see the 1930s with zombies. Especially with lingo intact. Topically, it holds to 1930s prejudices, too. But then tears those down with a diversity of characters.

This series is highly enjoyable. And recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

George Orwell’s 1984 Focus of a New Kickstarter Project

Unsung Stories out of London has been releasing wonderfully original science fiction and speculative fiction for the past couple of years. A few of their titles, by authors included in this new project no less, have made my “Best of the Year” recaps. So, I’m excited by this latest Kickstarter launching today.

The forthcoming anthology supported by the Kickstarter will imagine the world of 2084 in new, original tales by some very talented and boundary-pushing authors:
Jeff Noon
Christopher Priest
James Smythe
Lavie Tidhar
Aliya Whiteley
David Hutchinson
Cassandra Khaw
Desirina Boskovich
Anne Charnock
Ian Hocking
Oliver Langmead

I’ve read 4 novellas by 3 of these authors and highly enjoyed and recommended each. The inclusion of Tidhar, Whiteley and Hocking alone is enough to get me excited. Below are links to what I originally had to say about these authors:
Hocking, Ian–Deja Vu–4 stars
Tidhar, Lavie–“Kur-A-Len”–4 stars
Whiteley, Aliya–
     The Arrival of Missives–4 stars
     The Beauty–4 stars

There’s a bonus for writers in the various tiers of support–one level will put an author’s manuscript into the hands of an Unsung editor for edit and review . . .

Anthology Review: Superheroes edited by Rich Horton

SuperheroesSuperheroes by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superheroes have been enjoying a century of popularity, building on their predecessors the folk heroes, heroes of tall tales, and mythic heroes. The most successful of heroes are the ones that despite their uber-human status, grapple with their humanity and oh-so-human weaknesses. They also exemplify the potential contradiction between pubic and private personae.

This enjoyable anthology brings together 16 tales of larger-than-life heroes dealing with common themes: family, relationships, and aging. My favorite tale was Matthew Johnson’s “Heroic Measures” meriting 5 stars. This heart-stirring/heart-breaking tale shows familiar, unnamed characters–with a very strong resemblance to Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthur–grappling with the painful sorrow of old age. The very nature of heroism and bravery earns a new definition in this tale.

My honorable mentions, each with 4 stars, are:
“Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling. Sparring with one’s supervillain nemesis may make the papers, but raising teens is the real struggle . . .
Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi. The road to recovery is difficult and unappeciated. But it’s also necessary for this reformed supervillain just trying to do right by his loved ones.
Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar. Culture and politics clash when multinational superheroes try to do right by “the people.”

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the tales. Also included are:
Beagle, Peter S.–“Dirae”–3 stars
Beyer, Kat–“The Strange Desserts of Professor Natalie Doom”–3 stars
Bobet, Leah–“Wild Card”–3 stars
Gregory, Daryl–“The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm”–3 stars
Kelly, James Patrick–“The Biggest”–3 stars
Marcade, Jei D.–“Superhero Girl”–3 stars
Ronald, Margaret–“Sunlight Society”–3 stars
Schutz, Aaron–“Dr. Death vs. the Vampire”–3 stars
Emshwiller, Carol–“Grandma”–2 stars
Fortin, Elana–“The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“Secret Identity”–2 stars
McDonald, Ian–“Tonight We Fly”–2 stars

I’ve previously reviewed a couple anthologies edited by Rich Horton:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015–4 stars
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: The Cellist

Mother’s mother lies as a wisp in the crevasse
of pillows on a propped bed amid the flurry
of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” sputtering

from the tinny radio. Her right hand bows
tremolo seemingly. A continuous flutter of motions
seeking its cello now long-lain in velvet

and rusty clasps. The left hand is dystonic
like storm-stripped umbrella ribs, like the dead
spider on the sill. Cyan skin with florets

in hazels and mauves veneers her emergent clavicles.
I can turn away and close my eyes to the open
window. The radio cues a waltz and I can feel

the bed jostle with the bow-bounced spiccato
and the answering long-bowed quivering vibrato
of the left hand. The spider gingerly reanimates

its legs and explores the gap around the window
screen. My grandmother rests her cello
and, floral skirt in hand, twirls to the music

careful not to brush me as she passes.
 
 
 
[This poem was published by The Eunoia Review in April, 2015.]
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi

4 of 5 stars.

Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.

For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.

Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix

Sovereign's Wake (In The Absence of Kings, #1)Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens a High Fantasy series without need of fantastical races and creatures [elves, fae, dragons etc] nor magic. It’s more Medieval meets Les Miserables. The rogues are properly roguish without being too-too clever. Indeed, there’s a refreshing naivete to the working class people in their quest to rebel against the dystopian oppressors who’ve taken hold since the death of the king months prior.

The POV mostly flits between 3 main characters, though a limited few others are allowed a narrative perspective. Garreth and son Novas are the undisputed heroes. Garreth grew up a farmer’s son, but worked up the ranks of the former king’s Crown Aegis before retiring into the deep forest to raise his infant son in seclusion. Novas learns a simple forest life of hunting and gathering without influence of any other humans. Their idyll is shaken when men come to chop down the protected forest.

The heroes embark on a quest to the capital to question the surviving Queen on the ensuing destruction of the land and robbing of all travelers by the company run by the queen’s brother, Lord Vyse. Their path soon crosses that of Kayten, an able smith and daughter to a Mastersmith killed by Vyse’s men. The 3 find the unrest in the capital calling to them. And, Garreth makes for a reluctant leader . . .

Garreth’s style of heart over wile is refreshingly novel, if not without secondary problems to the plot. Also enjoyable is the last chapter’s opening up of the world beyond the narrow caste system to which Garreth and Novas have ever known.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]