Novella Review: Before Space Recon by M. D. White

Before Space Recon (Mission: SRX, #1.5)Before Space Recon by M.D. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As humans push out into space, they encounter only one other sentient species residing in a distant star system. The other species remains pretty passive–until they don’t.

This short tale follows a smattering of bridge officers on an minor transport vessel that gets waylaid by technology that they don’t understand. Suspiciously, an Aquillian ship happens to be primed to help them out in the insignificant stretch of space in which they’re stalled. Immediate warning bells goes off, when they think on the cargo of weapons they transport . . .

Multiple POVs are offered of the brutal infiltration and occupation of the ship. An additional POV is given from someone stationed at the asteroid where the Defiance was scheduled to arrive. Shipping routes are not exactly linear due to the complications of space/time bending travel so the search for the missing cargo ship involves its own detective prowess.

A paradigm is willfully broken here, when no canny hero of the Defiance rises fantastically above the situation. Sometimes, impossible odds are impossible odds. There’s not always a Ripley in the face of an Alien incursion or a John McClane when terrorists create a hostage situation. If The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have taught anything, it’s that just because a character is liked, it doesn’t mean they’re not expendable.

A series will be forthcoming, which I welcome.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through
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Short Story Review: “The Drake Equation” by C. L. Kagmi

2 of 5 stars.

“First Contact,” the moment when an advanced civilization is clued in to the existence of other advanced civilizations based elsewhere in the cosmos, remains a popular theme in science fiction. Humans could react poorly. Or perhaps be primed to be victims in an unequal partnership.

This vignette perhaps depicts a first contact–or–it’s the wild imaginings of a dying mind. Either way, an astronaut is sucked into the vacuum of space when a meteor strikes her space shuttle outside of Mars. Everything takes place within her head from there.

Amid memories of happy times on Earth, an alien voice reveals the conundrum of the Drake Equation which aims to solve the commonality of evolved civilizations throughout the universe. The one astronaut stands as the representative for all of humanity . . .

The tale is too short to give any real connection to the dying hero despite suggestions of kernels from her past. But a deeper tale developing the protagonist would surely shatter the psychological question of whether the events are real or imagined.

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: “Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker

4 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft [and his legions of admirers and adherents] leans into vague descriptions of the horror and awe “strung between the stars” as if there was no way to describe in concrete terms such vastness without losing its edge. And yet this tale manages the task brilliantly.

Centuries prior, an alien envoy plops down in the nearly inaccessible Antarctic. It calls itself “Envoy” but has never answered a single question beyond that. “Envoy from where? Envoy for whom?” The massive being controls the temperature and weather around it, and yet cannot be viewed by satellite, camera or other forms of tech. Yearly, it calls upon ambassadors from a couple nations to visit. A trained team of pilots escort the terrified diplomats to and from the experience. And they leave token gifts then depart with vague notions of duty fulfilled, but nothing gained.

This opening is similar to Warren Ellis’ graphic novel, Trees, in which massive alien towers descend to Earth decades prior, and then . . . nothing. They resist human interference and probing. Their reason, and if they have a reason, remains unknown. In this tale, a glint of the reason presents itself . . .

The pilots, for the first time ever, get word from the Envoy to leave despite the ambassadors not yet returning. Indeed, the ambassadors from Poland and Madagascar are no longer outside the great being. They’ve disappeared. Inside. The thing. That’s never happened before. Disobeying the order and their terror, the pilots approach the Envoy to investigate . . .

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: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.

The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.

Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??

The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.

This series is highly recommended.
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Graphic Novel Review: Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis

Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests (Trees, #2)Trees, Vol. 2: Two Forests by Warren Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The highly anticipated the sequel to Trees, Vol. 1, again drawn by Jason Howard, arrives with a narrower focus than the premiere volume which showed five different socio-cultural reactions across the world to the phenomenon of massive alien “trees” slamming down onto Earth and then lying dormant for 10 years.

This volume restricts its world view to Manhattan and Britain. The urban landscape of Manhattan remains flooded and decimated from the introduction of its tree. A man raised in its wake with a bone to pick with the police force’s handling of the original event has just been named Mayor-Elect. He leans into his ties to the lower Manhattan Underworld to achieve revenge . . .

Meanwhile, Dr. Joanne Creary barely survived the awakening of the Blindhail Tree on Svalbard. She witnessed the interaction between the alien black “Blindhail Poppies” and the tree and is reassigned to the only tree in Britain. It sits in the desolate Orkneys and her job is to be vigilant, and report what she sees.

Despite the vast differences between the two focal locations, the parallels arise quickly between the disparate scenes aided by Howard’s able art where the scar from a bullet wound may mirror a neolithic stone circle . . .

The development is fascinating, even as the endgame remains a mystery.

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Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
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Short Story Review: “Assault on the Summit” by Daniel Coble

4 of 5 stars.

Part of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, the fictional Leng region of Tibet or Nepal had its own esoteric beliefs and cultural practices, perhaps not of human origin. As other writers dive into the world of Lovecraft, Leng has appeared more often–usually a place where explorers, researchers and anthropologists disappear [see Marc Laidlaw’s “Leng”]. It’s often hinted that something alien, or perhaps a fungal-based lifeform dwells on the desolate high Himalayan plains.

While not mentioning Leng by name, this tale shares many key ingredients with Leng mythos. Like Jeff VanderMeer’s “Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist”, all that is found of the 19th Century adventurer is notes and letters. Professor Charles Polk disappears on the slopes of Mt. Nending in 1871. Letters detailing the probable last days of his life are not found for over 140 years.

In letters to fellow academics and to his wife all back in England, the pompous British adventurer notes his troubles in securing Sherpa guides for his ascent up a mountain rumored to have a temple at the summit. Then two Sherpas stroll into the Sherpa village and offer to take him up. Strangely, the villagers fear the two newcomers and deny that they are Sherpas. Polk starts to witness odd behaviors by his guides. They seem to talk and listen to shiny stone orbs when they think the Brit is out of sight range. Also, food, ropes and other supplies start to vanish in the night . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
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Graphic Release: Genesis V by Double Take

ISSUE_5_8-9-162_471x720_72_RGB ISSUE_5_8-9-167_471x720_72_RGB ISSUE_5_8-9-1610_471x720_72_RGB

With the June release of Genesis IV, I praised the sheer number and intensity of social issues raised about privilege, race, gender and sexuality. Set against the backdrop of 1960’s middle America, the contemporary issues rang clear. The series even provided neutral voices in the form of non-Earth beings. If there was any major complaint to be made about the series that drops 10 simultaneous issues together in the Genesis package, it’s that the confluence of zombie lore, mutant superhero lore and alien lore all melding in a single series was indubitably confusing for a single read-through, or five.

This 5th installment to the series addresses the confusion by providing a helpful recap narrator, Kevin, at the start of each issue. He manages to sum up that title’s major characters and their arcs, while providing clarity on previous ambiguities of which there were plenty. He also pulls the separate titles together contextually.

What doesn’t happen is–anything.

With the series finale coming within the next month or so, all the undead meat has apparently been saved for later. Some of the titles even take a serious step back as they merely provide altered perspectives on events already seen in episode #4. The clarity is welcome, but could also have come throughout the series allowing each issue to grind forward.

I’ve previously read Genesis I, Genesis II, and Genesis III.

Short Story Review: “Landscape with Intruders” by Jean-Claude Dunyach

3 of 5 stars.

Notably, the inaccurate model of electrons politely sticking to their orbits as they revolve around an atom’s nucleus resembles the simplified model of the solar system. Then again, the more accurate electron cloud of possibilities might be said to resemble the Oort cloud of comets. It’s all about scale. On Earth, humans inhabit the macro scale where we fail to notice mites, bacteria, viruses and nematodes. One can only wonder at the view from the micro perspective.

This tale delves into the notion of scale as a frontier scientist sets out on a lonely mission to look for disturbances in the Northern Canadian expanses that could be affecting animal migrations and possibly forest fires. What he finds after a naked drunken evening under the stars is his own body colonized like a memorably distasteful episode of pubic lice. Worse, the colonizers seem very aware of him . . .

This tale appears in the magazine Blindspot: Testing Reality, Issue #1 by the founders of Angle Mort. Their mission is to translate French science fiction into English to bridge the American and French science fiction communities. I received my copy of this issue directly from one of the editors through
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Short Story Review: “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” by Kelly Robson

2 of 5 stars.

The thin line between life and death is often explored in speculative fiction since fantasy can bridge the barrier to show both sides of the border. The title of this tale promises nothing less. It also opens with the date 09 September 2001–two days before 9-11 and the infamous terrorists acts that took down four planes and The Twin Towers. One cannot use these dates lightly, especially in a tale that promises to explore the line between life and death.

Over the course of 4 days in September 2001, 8th-11th, the title character dies many times. When she’s not dead, she’s conversing with the voices in her head promising to heal her. At times the voices claim to be alien with a ship and everything, at others they claim to be bacterial. This quizzical contradiction is never resolved, unless one accepts that alien bacteria came by spaceship.

The crux is why she’s dying. On the 9th, it’s from grievous wounds. On the 8th, it’s from a rape and assault that led to the grievous wounds that would kill her the next day again. The encouraging alien bacteria bring her back. After that it becomes less clear why she dies yet again.

The tale never explains why it puts 9-11 in the back ground without affecting the plot of the short story. It’s still too early to use 9-11 as window dressing and not address it. The heart of the story lies in Jessica’s dealing with the horrific circumstances she finds herself in.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s historical fantasy Water of Versailles.




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