Novella Review: Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack

4 of 5 stars.

The mash-up of supernatural urban fantasy and detective noir works time and time again. For Chicago this means Harry Dresden. London has Bob Howard of Stross’ Equoid. Here, Pollack gives NYC a reality-bending, multiverse-traveling detective named Johnny Shade. His wife is dead [by a poltergeist] and his daughter trapped in the reality beyond. Johnny stays a half step ahead of doom and demise by a canny network of associates and lovers.

He’s oath-bound to accept any client with his card, which cannot be a good thing. Especially when his own self-created and later destroyed–or so he thought–doppelganger comes to hire Johnny Shade to “beat” the duplicate’s maker, ie Johnny himself. As the duplicate Johnny known as Johnny Rev tries to take substance from the realm of dreams, Shade turns to the help of his ex-lover the Dream Hunter who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a formerly worshipped sun god and the Queen of Eyes [oracle of oracles] . . .

The layers of the history and worlds upon worlds tantalizes as around every corner lies another Johnny Shade anecdote or past lesson learned or lucked through. This tale is highly recommended.

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

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Inhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe NovellaInhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe Novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella taking pace in the lunar dome-city of Armstrong fits into the larger Retrieval Artist world, but stands alone quite well [in the opinion of this reviewer who’s never read anything by Rusch before, nor heard of this series].

The novella opens with the promise of a tight detective tale with alternating POVs between detective Noelle DeRicci and coroner Ethan Broduer as they both investigate a body dump in a crate of compost slated to be spread over the dome-city’s food farms. Things get more complicated in the identification process in this world of natural humans, aliens, and both slow-grow and fast-grow clones. Laws are different around each with clones merely counting as property for their creator.

While the larger human rights issues surface, especially as it deals with clones, the tale zeroes in on the convoluted politics of the crime families, ruling Earth Alliance, and the dirty city politics. Surprisingly and disappointingly, more POVs are added to the rush of narrative pulling the tale cleanly away from DeRicci and Broduer. The head of the main crime family whose fired nanny was the composted body, his head of security, and DeRicci’s politically motivated boss take over the narrative leading to a largely unsatisfying non-ending.

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

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Ripper by Angela Slatter

RipperRipper by Angela Slatter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The intrigue and mystery of notorious crimes has a long memory. None more so than Jack the Ripper, the sordid landscape Whitechapel London, and the horror of five grotesquely mutilated bodies. The five victims were all female prostitutes. This surely put the target on them, but did it also slow the investigation? Would more resources have been allocated to this unsolved crime if the victims had been from a more distinguished caste of society? Did sexist double standards play a role in what has undoubtedly a sexist Victorian England?

Historically fictive accounts of the Ripper have embraced the detective and thriller genres and sometimes even steampunk. Here, the novella takes an urban fantasy approach with witchcraft and supernatural motives layered onto the detective and thriller genres. Most satisfyingly, the gender issues are explored and embraced at many levels. What double standards led to the women becoming prostitutes? What were the current relationships with men for these married [yes, married] women? Importantly, it also asks whether the male investigators were adequately inspired to solve the crimes and right headed in their efforts to do so.

Apprentice Investigator Kit Caswell wants to unravel the secrets surrounding the gruesome murders of 2 local Whitechapel prostitutes. But Kit has secrets, too, that could aid and undermine the investigation. She’s illegally impersonating a man to hold the job. That’s the only way she can earn enough to support her less-than-sane mother and her sickly younger brother. She happens to be good at her job. But she has her naysayers in the department, along with her advocates.

Out on the street, one particular neighborhood denizen sees right through Kit’s disguise. Mary Jane is a low-level witch, friend of both deceased, and a prostitute with a target on her back . . .

This highly recommended tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Female Factory”, “A Good Husband”, and “The Song of Sighs”


 

 

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Short Story Review: “Street of the Dead House” by Robert Lopresti

4 of 5 stars.

Ironically, the intelligence of animals is often quantified by their ability to understand and communicate on human terms. Dolphins and dogs will be granted credit for reacting in specific ways in response to certain words. Koko, the kitten-owning gorilla, still epitomizes animal intelligence for mastering a form of sign language. And yet, humans have yet to master any animal languages . . . whale song, anyone?

This clever tale re-imagines the Rue Morgue [“Street of the Dead House” in sign language] from the POV of the orangutan. And while in Poe’s original, the ape is a brute. Here, the intelligent creature has been trained like Koko and yet plays dumb. The motives of various human and non-human characters play across each other like the inevitable language and cultural barriers informing each character.

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

 

 

 

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Novel Review: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5)Death Masks by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Detective noir stories exhibit an enticing mix of swagger and self-doubt, sexiness and vulnerability. They provide something relatable, while yet inspiring toward the noble. All the better when said detective noir tale is read aloud by James Marsters–thank you audible.

The Dresden Files series is episodically enjoyable, and yet an increasingly complex overarching world that bring the detective noir genre to modern day Chicago with a wizard at the helm. Harry Dresden always has one foot in his mouth and another mired in trouble from either this reality or another realm of existence. He’s also usually aided by a few of his growing number of associates and acquaintances.

In this tale, his CPD partner Murphy takes a back seat as does the Fae realm of the Nevernever. Harry strives to solve an international theft of the Shroud of Turin that’s made its way into Chicago’s underworld. Thieves, priests and fallen angels are hot on the trail of this treasure. Not surprisingly, Knight of the Cross Michael partners up on this case, along with a couple new faces from his Order. Meanwhile, Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan the bitten-but-not-turned-yet vampire has returned to Chi-town right as a major noble of the Vampire Red Court descends to kill Harry for his part in the war between the Red Court and the Wizarding White Counsel.

Typical of these novels, the dual storylines weave into a frenzied tapestry with a few loose threads left dangling for later episodes. Romance, family, politics, magic and mystery each get an update here.

I recommend the entire series. I’ve previously read:
     Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
     Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
     Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
     Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)–4 stars
     “Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars

 

 

 

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Graphic Novel Review: Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis

Injection, Vol. 1Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Magic is merely science not yet understood–or so the theory goes. This series stems directly from that maxim as in an effort to break new ground in scientific understanding and possibilities, unexplained forces and entities are released into the world. Merging artificial intelligence with the physics-defying lore of the Fae, unleashes new horrors upon the rationalist people of the 21st Century.

A few years prior, a loose round table of 5 geniuses gather to drive innovation into the Modern world. They create The Injection, an artificial intelligence, not mimicking human intelligence, that takes advantage of all cyber possibilities and the connectivity of the modern world along with unknown physics that reflect ancient folklore surrounding megaliths and fairy stones. The Injection is the team’s creation, but not theirs to command . . .

The full breadth of the tale takes a long time to establish, but eventually gets there–wherever that there is. The art by Declan Shalvey gets the job done unevenly. Supernaturally tainted scenes stand out nicely, while real world scenes get a cartoon-y, flat treatment–especially on the interiors. Exterior scenes, both urban and rural are nicely rendered.

I’ve previously read Ellis’ Trees, Vol. 1 which made my Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015.

 

 

 

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Novel Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Dresden is the quintessential modern day, wizarding detective. With one foot in Chicago, and the other kicking the supernatural world of the Fae called Nevernever, Harry is ever learning about broader worlds and politics that make Chicago’s look tame. The first few books in the series established Harry as a talented yet poor wizard that has to advertise his abilities to pay the rent. This includes working for the Chicago Police Department as a paid consultant in all things weird.

Early books hinted at Harry’s dark past in which he killed his mentor in self-defense, and fought to maintain his life and to retain his talent from the White Counsel that rules over all wizards. Vampire and Fae politics also ensnared him, while werewolves, pixies, demons and worse prowled, buzzed and bullied Chicago.

This strong addition to the series starts with a murder and climaxes with Harry trying to prevent all out war between the two main fairy factions. Considering that Book 3 saw him fail to keep the 3 vampire factions from declaring war on each other and against the White Counsel, this is no small order. The tale is highly recommended.

James Marsters read this tale to me thanks to Audible. I’ve previously read Butcher’s:
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)–4 stars
Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)–4 stars
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)–4 stars
“Last Call” (The Dresden Files, #10.6)–5 stars

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]