Novel Review: Recreance by H. G. Chambers

Recreance (The Aeternum Chronicles, #1)Recreance by H.G. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More than a few fantasy series can be described as: a future dystopian society on the verge of social apocalypse with 1 or 2 teenagers stepping up to overcome terrible odds for the sake of all. It’s in the differences between this epic and others that makes it special and in the parts that it does particularly well. As the opening installment of a series, the potential is also worth. But the series also owes some explanations left unanswered in this volume.

Humankind long ago overcame aging and natural death, but that led to an unexpected new discovery. Like the changes of puberty in teenagers making them adults, humans undergo a second major change [or third if one counts menopause] in which after the age of 150 individuals gain a physics-bending, if not magical ability. Interestingly, the magical process taps into and opens portals and potentials in parallel universes. Some of these are quite different and deadly–and tantalizingly left for future volumes.

What matters here is that the truly ancient Patriarch wishes to keep others from the final change by culling them at 150 years of age. He also uses his abilities to enslave the citizens of the only known true city on the planet. His plans are of demonic, Lovecraftian proportions.

Two teens, Oren and Clementine, each lost their respective families. Cast aside by society, they are the city’s only hope.

Some things are handled particularly well by this series. 1) The development and yet understatement of exobiological species. 2) The individual development arc of the two teens. Each follows a very different path. Especially strong is the relationship between Oren and his mentor. 3) Speculative technologies and Clem’s manipulation of them.

Left unanswered is the atypical development of Clem and Oren to their species. Similar and shared experiences hopefully explain it, as otherwise the kids don’t represent the potential in us all. Lastly, the overly Millennial colloquial euphemisms and dialogue between the teens makes little sense in a world and time so different from ours.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Poetry Review: The Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco

The WatcherThe Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Building on a long history of narrative epic poetry, this tale follows a young human slave in a dystopian society as he makes his moves to escape the oppressive non-human regime. The interesting premise fights to play through the poetic structure, or lack thereof.

Traditionally, epic poetry is purely narrative with the speaker telling the story of a hero. The structure of the poem, whether it chooses to adeptly utilize rhyme or not, often employs rhythm providing momentum for the poem. In the English and Norse epics, the mid line break [caesura] also built a sub-structure into the poem. Rhythm and [optional] rhyme aided in memorizing the tale.

This tale is free verse since it opted for first person stream-of-consciousness rather than third person narrative. It also opts to eschew all punctuation to achieve the desired POV. That forces all structure onto the line breaks and stanza breaks to reflect the phrases. There is no win from this structural arrangement.

The stream-of-consciousness limitation to the narrative compromises the world building of the tale without third party characters introducing outside concepts. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, the narrow POV is meant to be highly filtered. But with such a tantalizing recent history lingering in the shadows of the tale, one could hope for a wider lens. Characters in the know, such as the speaker’s parents, are silenced by their effective absence.

With everything else stripped away [other characters, context, structure and even punctuation] the reader solely relies on the speaker and the interesting if sparse illustrations by Florence Chan. The speaker fails in consistency. Verb tenses flip from present tense to past tense and then double back again without a subsequent change of subject or time period. Either the speaker is giving the immediate tale that the reactionary rhetorical questions and present tense verbs would imply, or he has gained at least the limited understanding and context provided by the passage of time. Both cannot happen at once, and yet confoundingly here they do. And even the very passing of time is made contradictory. In the scene “The Hunt,” the speaker claims an “after-the-fact” advantage that time provides: “patience was the key to those early days / the times were tough / I had no idea what to look for . . . I’ve tried killing [the stag] every day since I came here . . .” After this the first successful hunt scene plays out in the present tense, despite the opening passage being after the tough times of unsuccessful hunts.

Perhaps the tale is relying on the missing graphic structure that illustrations can provide. Such as in Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga graphic series where scenes play out in the present tense, but the ultimate narrator is also able to apply meta commentary in the past tense from a far future POV. If that is the case, it hasn’t been established here.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital MechanicsDescender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The newest installment to Lemire’s Descender narrows its focus brilliantly allowing three separate storylines to play out simultaneously across the page, sometimes in parallel and at other times in opposition. The haunting watercolor artwork by Dustin Nguyen pulls the pages together beautifully.

The theme running through the pages is one of self. Even as characters try to work and relate to each other, they may find themselves utterly alone. And yet hope resides in some interconnections between characters that isn’t broken by the vastness of space and the enormity of opposing forces.

The tensions between the artificially intelligent robots and the carbon-based living species in the star system have lined up their forces for all out war. And everybody wants to control the human-sympathetic Tim-21 companion bot that holds a greater AI codex hidden within.

I’ve previously read:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 3: Singularities–5 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 7 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 7The Alpha Plague 7 by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This action packed British urban fantasy follows a tight cast of characters through a rage-style zombie apocalypse. Organized into trilogies, the opening trilogy details the hourly spread of the apocalyptic pandemic from the POV of a father just trying to save his 6 y.o. son, Flynn. The second trilogy jumped ten years to show the dystopian micro-communities that existed in the ravaged landscape. Each micro-community was largely isolationist since infected zombies ruled the world.

This installment repeats the trick of the fourth book by fast forwarding yet another ten years–again to shocking effect. Here, the zombies died out 8 years prior. So everything’s good, right?

And, no. Dystopian and sadistic micro-communities still dominate the countryside, but now unchecked by the undead. With dwindling resources, communities enslave or outright kill each other. Others turn to cannibalism.

Flynn, now 26 and after accepting the sanctuary of Home for a decade, strikes out on his own to find a better community. Home isn’t what it once was. The electricity and running water failed during the intervening years. However, what Flynn finds with another community is so much worse. Captured and imprisoned, he needs to outwit and outsurvive 19 other prospects for a single spot in their community. Failure=death. [Think: Hunger Games]

The nice sub-theme of this installment is trust. Flynn didn’t trust Vicky during his teen years, and then she left. Then he didn’t trust the new leaders of Home. Unless he wants to go it alone forever, he needs to learn to trust. But who to trust when it’s every person for oneself . . . to the death.??

This series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 5–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 6–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 6 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 6: A Post-Apocalyptic Action ThrillerThe Alpha Plague 6: A Post-Apocalyptic Action Thriller by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading and recommending this series as an apocalyptic guilty pleasure. Whereas the opening trilogy brilliantly details the first couple of days in a British-style rage zombie apocalypse, this installment completes the second trilogy which follows a couple of the characters from the beginning of the series as they wander out into the apocalyptic zombie-infested landscape ten years into the pandemic.

A community called “Home” stands as its own character in this trilogy. For fans of the Walking Dead, they know to be wary of innocently named survival groups and locations: Terminus, Sanctuary. In book 4, Home was an alluring destination calling out over the radio waves. Book 5 saw the shortcomings of the Utopian Home with its electricity and contained farms away from the undead. It also showed the uneasy truce with the sadistically led neighboring group.

This book culminates with a war between the groups. Moira, leader of the neighboring group, wants Home for herself. She steps up the torturing and murdering of innocents teasing everyone to war. Vicky, a major player throughout the series, rallies the Home troops, but she’s not without her enemies. In a reflection of partisan politics, a few naysayers with their heads in the sand want to believe that every bad thing developing boils down to Vicky . . .

There have only been a few truly shocking moments in this series. One comes early in the 4th book when the quartet of main characters is thinned. The second comes at the end of this book. One must read it to the last page. Where the series goes from here, I don’t know. But it does go on . . . This series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 5–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Less Than Zombie” by Douglas E. Winter

Less Than ZombieLess Than Zombie by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This tale responds to the Post-Modern classic, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel. Perhaps it makes this tale too narrowly aimed for the literary critic. Reading Ellis’ novel first isn’t necessary, but recognizing where it’s coming from helps.

Ellis’ novel incorporates all of the depraved and callous decadence of works like William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which depicts the sexually loose and drug infused world of the fringe beats drifting between Europe and North Africa in the 1960s and applies it to the 1980s teen culture of urban and suburban upper middle class America which saw heroin epidemics around Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Both novels offered POVs through the lens of shifting drug hazes, loose fluid graphic sex and sexuality, prostitution, rape, snuff films and dead bodies. Both were received incredulously by those who couldn’t fathom what could bring society to this lowered state.

An answer is provided in this short tale, in which the speaker and his social circle are beyond jaded one year into a zombie apocalypse. Written in the style of Ellis’ novel, scenes are lifted from the novel and overlaid with undead, albeit without the tongue-in-cheek of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies turn on Jane Austen’s more famous novel.

Does this take somehow lessen Ellis’ work? Yes and no. Yes, in that it provides a more palatable reason [zombies] for the decadence than the practically “no reason at all” in the original. The original is so shocking that it isn’t believed by many to be possible. But I vote, “No.” This doesn’t lessen Ellis’ work. It shows the door that would send much of society down this very route. Zombies as a genre have evolved from tales of ghouls without social implications into complex social commentaries showing the tenuous hold on civility that actually exists. One hurricane, one riot, and an entire social structure can crumble. Humanity has shown this repeatedly.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Strungballs by Mike Russell

StrungballsStrungballs by Mike Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rooted deeply in absurdism, this tales touches on themes of conformity and identity before moving on to reality and existence. With a creepy sci-fi feel to the beginning, a 10 y.o. boy awakens from surgery having had a cube of flesh cut and cauterized from his chest. Everything he sees, and indeed everything in the city, is sterile white and modular. The rooms are all perfect cubes. The city is a torus within a sphere. The sphere surrounding the torus is comprised of all of the surgically removed cubes of flesh removed from the citizens.

In an important rite of passage, not only does he give flesh, but he receives a ball on a string to push into the cubic hole in his body–a Strungball. Everybody wears Strungballs. Adults may sport 6, 12, even 24 if they’ve been particularly . . . giving.

Adding to the creepy tone is the stilted dialogue of conformity reminiscent of 1960’s television banter. Think: Stepford wives.

This isn’t the where the tale goes weird. But it starts with the boy questioning his role in the society, the limitations of the society and even the real purpose of the Strungballs. Then things start to transform. Reality shifts and bends, and not towards something less absurd.

I like this tale. Characters don’t develop to any real extent, but the themes do.

I received my copy of the collection directly from Strange Books through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’ve previously read Russell’s anthologies of short absurdist stories: Nothing Is Strange and Strange Medicine–both of which I gave 4 stars.
 
 
 
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