Short Story Review: “Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson

4 of 5 stars.

A beautiful background and strong hook open this sci-fi short story when a woman comfortably awakens in her bed only to see Earth looming overhead through the skydome in her bedroom compartment. Her husband, the only other resident of the lunar biodome [and of the moon, period] isn’t in the bed with her. The casual mystery of his absence turns serious when she finds him in the rainforest dome beneath the chittering bush babies. Dead. Of a stab wound.

NASA confirms that the cameras system winked out hours earlier in an apparent glitch. Suicide? Sleepwalking murder? Or something more nefarious? Gwen keeps her head long enough to reach out the her ex she wronged years earlier. He’s the detective and mystery writer. He’s the ex-fiancee she left for his roommate–her now dead husband on a satellite with a current living human population of 1.

Gwen and Jonas have 5 days to solve the mystery before less caring governmental and business forces come up to clean up and cover up the mess . . .

The tale unspools on multiple timelines after the opening. There’s the baggage-laden history of Jonas and Gwen filtering the lens of the current time murder mystery. Jonas doesn’t sit comfortable in his equal mistrust of Gwen and of government and business interests. Nor has he forgiven his ex-roommate. The pace, tone, and voice make this a winner.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Of Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell

Of Plagues and PriestessesOf Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A clear world-building fantasy, this novel paints nearly everything and everybody without nuanced shades of gray. The trio of Priestesses [the maiden, the mother and the crone] are everything good and righteous in the world. Their white light magic can revive the dead, purify water and cast out dark monsters and magic. Residing in the capital city of the central kingdom [Valorholme], their influence lords over all other realms. They’re also comically masochistic, self-righteously insufferable and largely unlikable as they impose their will on everybody.

The opposing nation of Briarcroft is depicted as all that is evil. Curiously, the sun never shines there and nothing but briars grow there despite lying just west of the mountains bordering Valorholme. Briarcroft understandably wants to bring the sun back to their land and to be freed from dependence on the whims of self-righteous Valorholme. Their reliance on dragons and ghouls to achieve their means are less noble.

The tale borrows heavily from Greek and Biblical mythos as it introduces unstoppable heroes of inhuman proportion. This includes wholesale attributing the Heruclean slaying of the Hydra to a living hero of this novel.

The narrative prefers to jump from epic confrontation to epic confrontation without character development. Substories with merit, such as the conflict between the royals and religious orders of Valorholme, are left unfilled. Characters slip from the narrative when they should not. And disjointed scenes sit uneasily within the tale such as the one-off vampire castle. Missing from this tale is a single character that feels relatable and real, if not likable.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Blossom” by Chan McConnell

3 of 5 stars.

Despite the innocuous title, this vignette is about violence–horrible, horrible violence. A parallel is drawn. A zombie is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human. A rapist is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human . . .

When your income hit the high six figures there was no such animal as date rape.

Based on the amount of money a privileged and empowered man spent over dinner, he assumed his right to have sex with his date. He doesn’t ask permission or create safe words. He destroys her clothes cutting them off. Ties her up to be kinky and puts a mask on her that suffocates her. Everything could have been consensual if he had only asked or cared.

Panting, he lumbered immediately to the bathroom. When he returned, Amelia had not changed position, and he finally noticed she was no longer breathing.

Sometimes it went down that way, he thought. The price of true passion, however aberrant. But she was still moist and poised at the ready, so he opted to have one more go.

The metaphor is completed in the second half of the vignette. Perhaps a bit heavy handedly, but the point is made. There’s not enough plot for a short story here, but that’s not the purpose. Tables turn quickly, if not misogynistically. While she’s eating through the leather mask and his face with one orifice, another orifice seems to have grown teeth and castrated the rich rapist . . .

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.

This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.

–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides.
–Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes.
–Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder.
–Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter.
Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

When the purest substance on earth, unicorn horn, is used to make a dildo, every demon for millennia wants to get their . . . hands . . . on it.

Two demon brothel madams battle over NYC turf. Each would like to add the aforementioned rumored item to their arsenal and jump into action when it hits Chinatown. The scrap up comes down to a dead Jimmy Wong, an ambitious double-crossing sorceress, and a lesbian store owner of rare books.

The tale comes across plenty noir, but more Lovecraft than detective. There’s much world-building for a short story, stretching this tale to the extremes with what’s left unexplained.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
     “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”–3 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “See Me” by Tanya Huff

3 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of detective tale in that the one doing the detecting, Tony Foster, is not a detective by trade, but rather by circumstance. He is, however, a wizard. This allows him to delve more deeply into the mystery of dead elderly men without IDs being found near his work and near his home in Vancouver.

Tony works on the crew of a popular vampire/detective television show. His boyfriend, an actor, plays the detective on the show. Things get “complicated” when the hooker who’d been serving the first of the dead men takes an interest in Tony’s boyfriend. The police are too busy hunting recent missing persons to investigate old men dying of natural causes . . .

The unusual and complex relationship between Tony, Lee [the boyfriend], and Valerie [the prostitute] grows steadily throughout the story making it work.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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