Short Story Review: “Sunlight Society” by Margaret Ronald

3 of 5 stars.

Cyber thriller meets urban fantasy superhero tale when a “nethead” cyber master linked into the various world webs is able to gum up the computing power of an Avengers-like organization to scour for his own interests. They’re looking for a nethead to work with them for the greater good. He wants to know what happened to the girl he loved . . .

The gambits play out nicely with Superhero tropes filling in the scenery.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
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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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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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Novella Review: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

The Citadel of Weeping PearlsThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beneath the veneer of speculative science and space opera sci-fi, this convoluted thriller surrounding the disappearance of two women 30 years apart shows the intricate relationships between grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters. A ruling dynasty, culturally East Asian, in outer space finds itself on the brink of war and turning to its own past and ancestors for guidance.

30 years ago, the Empress’ favored daughter broke from the empire and was banished. Her Citadel of Weeping Pearls had the greatest technologies and weapons. Still considered a threat to the Empire, war was sparked, but the The Citadel and all of its inhabitants disappeared without a trace. Unfavored brothers and sisters and the Empress were left with a hole in their lives as vacant as the deep recesses of space.

On opposite sides of the Empire, two scientists are separately working on ways to bridge time by bridging space. This is the only hope for solving the mystery of the missing Citadel of Weeping Pearls. The esteemed court scientist disappears from her laboratory just hours after being visited by a concerned father from the outer reaches–his daughter is pursuing the same time-bending goals with her scientist-friend in hopes of finding closure with the disappearance of her mother who was housed on The Citadel when it vanished . . .

The descriptions of the deep spaces used for the vastness of space has Lovecraftian qualities, albeit without the Old Ones. The crushing madness, however, is present.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.



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Novella Review: Viral Spark by Martin McConnell

Viral SparkViral Spark by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For decades now, humans have deepened the abilities of artificial intelligence, and yet wondered what would happen if the AI gained sentience. Possibly bad things [2001, The Matrix] and possibly not [Wall-E, Star Trek]. The question is, are we ready to release the reins and to let the AI make its own decisions? Another growing trend is mankind’s reliance on our tech, sentient or not. Google tells us where to go and how to get there. It’s almost inconceivable that just 20-odd years ago, the internet wasn’t a thing, GPS wasn’t directing our movements, and cell phones weren’t constant companions.

This near future sci-fi novella, shows a world reliant on tech. Robots accomplish much labor, pads and screens provide information, entertainment and education, and neural implants sync one to one’s schedule, cell phone, pad and the world in general. And then everything starts glitching . . .

Robert is a technological wunderkind, able to code robots to his liking and unravel whatever’s not working. He’s also just about out of school and ready to carve out a nice niche for himself with his talents smoothing the way. And then his robots start glitching, and he knocks them back in line. Then his pad glitches, and his home screen system. Robert notices what others haven’t–a pattern emerging . . .

The scope of this tale is purposely restrained, hopefully because sequels are in the works. Otherwise, there are some pretty large, unexplained social practices and realities only partially flushed out in this world. One can only hope that as Robert graduates and moves out into the world, that larger world of the future starts to coalesce on the page.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through




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Short Story Review: “Twelve and Tag” by Gregory Norman Bossert

3 of 5 stars.

One’s personal biography, the stories one tells oneself, slowly drifts over the years further from the objective truth. And then there are the lies one tells–stories meant to deceive others and not oneself. This is a tale of stories and a game in which the players try to determine which of a storyteller’s tales is the true one.

Near the end of the 21st Century, after most of the solar system has been colonized or at least exploited for resources, science allows people to create computer back-ups of themselves and to get high on another person’s memories. Both interestingly skew the concept of truth and deception when it comes to personal stories. In the first, memories can be edited out of a person if the back-up created pre-memory is engaged. In the second, false memories are implanted thereby created a problematic new personal truth.

The crew of the Tethys, a deep ocean hunting ship on icy Europa, likes to spend their downtime playing verbal games. Twelve and Tag is a verbal associative game. The second is a game to distinguish truth from lies. They use this second game to test out prospective new crew members by having them tell 2 tales under the categories of Saddest Moment, Worst Moment, or Weirdest Moment. One tale must be true, the other false. Everybody gets a vote . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.




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Short Story Review: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of DeadAnd You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The noir voice lends itself well to both detectives and mercenaries who often have much in common. It provides the personal perspective and often vulnerability and heart to the trained body and mind. Here, the protagonist isn’t human at all, but the sentimentality inherent in the noir voice shows her weakness as the AI mercenary finds herself caring where she prides herself on being ruthless and detached.

Sentient AI and humans mix in the mobster-inundated, refuse-choked worlds of Jupiter’s moons. Rhye [the hired gun] and Rack [her cyber-savvy partner] find themselves on the wrong side of a job gone bad. Rack takes a body-ending bullet to the face, sending Rhye on a desperate journey to finish the job, save Rack’s consciousness, and not get killed herself.

The narration is gummed up with overly ubiquitous, noir-appropriate metaphors and the necessarily complicated relation of reality to cyber-reality. Despite the imaginative set-up, few surprises arise.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]