Novel Review: Hell Dancer by Wol-vriey

Hell DancerHell Dancer by Wol-vriey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This novel is thinly plotted Torture Porn. All scenes involve either torture/ graphic murder, graphic sex of various kinky varieties, urination, defecation or a combination of any and all of these.

Most of the characters manage to be porn stars or serial killers, all of whom have sexually degrading episodes from their past that get used to fill the pages between almost plot-relevant scenes of equally degrading torture porn. The few other characters are not left likable either in that they have no backstory or development or no redeeming qualities. One’s meant to like the police officer who apparently thinks it was okay to punish her husband for masturbating by anally raping him with a nightstick in a non-consensual way. This, described graphically multiplied by all scenes of the book = Hell Dancer.

Lovecraftian elements are window dressing, ultimately not building any true sense of a multi-dimensional world of horror.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
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Novel Review: Xan & Ink by Zak Zyz

Xan and InkXan and Ink by Zak Zyz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This highly imaginative fantasy novel develops in unexpected ways taking what seems to be a fairly typical quest by a ragtag quartet and wending the plot into depths from which there’s possibly no return. Both a strength and weakness to the novel is the original quest, saving the kingdom from invading monstrous arthropods, being so sidelined that resolution sits off the horizon. One can only assume that there are planned sequels. Or the entire quest was a red herring, which might yet be the case even with subsequent chapters in this saga.

The original quartet [mage and warrior brothers, a female slave, and warrior-priest religious zealot] are turned out of a kingdom’s prison to regain honor by clearing the land of a growing menace. Their back stories are left under-explored with the exception of the slave. Their quest sends them in the direction of the deadly valley of insects whence the scourge emerged. They also find themselves in areas influenced by two separate mysterious but powerful people: Xan the ranger and Ink the dark wizard. Between these two influences, the quartet ricochet pulling them further from their original quest.

These two titular characters, Xan and Ink, become the focus of the novel, if not the main characters. Again, this calls into question whether the quartet was also a red herring. Yet, these two characters remain enigmatic despite becoming focal. Their motives and histories never become clear to the page.

The great pleasure of the book is in rich, organic descriptions that verge on poetic.

Meanwhile, the depth of detail in erotic scenes worthy of smut zines is not for the prudish. Nor are they critical to the plot.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
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Short Story Review: “Record of a Growth” by Fanny Charrasse

3 of 5 stars.

Paranoia taints one’s view of the world. It can lead to second-guessing what one experiences and obsessing over the details. Schizophrenic paranoia takes that to another level with the entire baseline for reality getting reset.

This tale lies along the paranoia spectrum as at first Phil is only slightly annoyed by his girlfriend’s obsession with a mole on her belly that she thinks is growing. She wants him to measure it, but he mockingly measures a red stain on the wall that he claims to be worried about.

A few days later, the stain on the wall catches Phil’s attention–it does indeed look bigger, much bigger. Then, he starts to notice red stains everywhere. More each day . . .

While considered sci-fi by the author and publisher, I’d classify this tale as absurdism or horror-lite. There are no social context clues as to the framework of society merely a close-up on Phil’s world. Sci-fi usually hints at the larger state of the world or society.

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: “Mother Black Cap’s Revenge” by George F.

4 of 5 stars.

Hearing and accepting that Truth is Stranger Than Fiction is one thing–experiencing it as only Camden, London can dish it is a whole different matter. My own experience with Camden came in the years before the internet and cellular telephones. Homosexuality was still unprotected in most places, and gay marriage existed nowhere. Camden in London, The Village in NYC, Boystown [Lakeview] in Chicago, Montrose in Houston–these were refuges for young and old disaffected queer. Many people had been disowned by family. Suicides were endemic.

I was a teenaged queer wisp from rural Illinois/Iowa who’d never even been on a plane. My first flight was solo to London, and that night I was in Camden. And I was home. Amid street protests and purple-haired goddesses in layers of black gossamer. A Middle-Eastern dwarf on a crate spouting the most impressive chain of English swear words all hyphenated together while in a fight with an Afro-Caribbean giant, arms flapping like pennants, taunting the shorter man. I was no longer the freak among normals.

This tale laments the gentrification trend shuttering the great bohemian establishments of yesteryear. When a long time pub-refuge is chained up, a group of queer punk radicals take over the building against the objections of the owners to throw one last endless party:

Tattoos and bare flesh, wild eye make-up and hair extensions, clean-cut twinks and hairy bears, butch femmes and mohawked crusties–a riot of sexualities and modifications and bizarre, wondrous in-betweens and ambiguities. Male and female collapse into one another and back out the other side. The dance-floor is packed, heaving with bodies grinding and bouncing against one another in a sweaty, amorphous confusion, or effortlessly whirling around like protons and electrons blasted free from the bonds of physics.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through
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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: Saga, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan [w/ Fiona Staples]

Saga, Volume 6Saga, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vaughn’s brilliant writing complemented by Fiona Staples’ masterful artwork returns bringing love, fear, pain, sacrifice and joy to the Romeo-&-Juliet space opera that is Saga. Each of the volumes has seemed to follow an overarching theme, whether it be family, war, separations, or sacrifice. This is no exception as it explores a theme of tolerance and inclusivity.

You’ll never understand the way the worlds really work until you surround yourself with people from all sorts of weird backgrounds.

The tale’s narrator, Hazel, is the lovechild of warring races from 2 different celestial bodies. Neither race wants it to be known that such a mixed race child could exist. For the young, preteen narrator, this secret is a heavy burden to bear. Hazel learns a lesson in secrets and inclusiveness when she discovers a transgender in the women’s war-camp she resides in with her grandmother.

Along with the addition of the welcome transgender character, the gay reporter characters that have to hide their relationship from their home culture, also return after a noticeable absence in the last volume. Queer tolerance and racial tolerance take the spotlight in scene after scene, and religious tolerance gets a small nod.

The deep exploration of social and personal themes has landed this series many awards, including from Goodreads in the category of best Graphic Novels. Volume 5 made my Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015. The entire series is highly recommended.

Check out my reviews for other installments of Saga:
Saga, Volume 1
Saga, Volume 2
Saga, Volume 3
Saga, Volume 4
Saga, Volume 5

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Little Sisters” by Vonda N. McIntyre

Little SistersLittle Sisters by Vonda N. McIntyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Traditional notions of gender and sexuality take a backseat in this sci-fi tale of war, conquest, violence and rape. An arrogant interstellar species that thinks nothing of wiping out a planet’s intelligent species for the sake of making colonization effortless, treats its AI, helper species and members of its own species with the same violent disregard.

Qad is an adventurer in a hermaphroditic species of adventurers and Executives. The adventurers go forth in their sentient living spaceships to find suitable planets and kill any intelligence found there for a modest reward back home. The attitude toward the self-sacrificing spaceships is patronizing, and toward the AI is even worse. The Executives hold the power in the society and use threats, violence and forced copulation [aka rape] to manipulate and debase others.

Interestingly, the adventurers and Executives are given male pronouns despite their ovipositors and ability to be impregnated. Parasitic extensions from the body that feed independently [or get re-absorbed by the body] and physically get pregnant are called little sisters. Interbreeding, sex between different members of the species, is rare as self-impregnating is the standard. This set-up begs for a feminist or queer interpretation. Mostly, it fronts the topic of coercive rape and the aftermath. It also highlights a correlation between disregard for other forms of life and disregard for members of one’s own species. Both are important topics not often written about this frankly.

This tale appears in a couple “best of” anthologies. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan, I received from Netgalley. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]