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 bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek BridgeAn Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This haunting, psychological bender depicts the dramatic hanging of a Rebel supporter by the Union troops. Most interestingly, the tale was written in 1890 with not even a generation lapsed since the end of the war. Wounds between North and South would still have been quite raw. Especially in this tale in which a Southern civilian is baited into doing something illegal by a Union soldier in order to drum up a hanging. And so it plays out.

But it doesn’t play out as characters nor readers would expect as minute details, sensations and thoughts flicker across the page–all from the POV of the condemned man falling . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Wet Work” by Philip Nutman

3 of 5 stars.

This very short story takes zombie-lore into an original direction. The tale was later expanded into a novel under the same name by this author. I haven’t read the novel version, but can see the merits in a longer form for this tale and concept.

Zombies are intelligent. And social–pack-hunting. And every bit as cruel and disturbed as human serial killers. Organized groups of zombies, working for the zombified government hunt non-zombie humans for meat. Meanwhile, organized groups of non-zombie humans have declared urban warfare on the zombies . . .

The concept is fresh and worthy of novel-treatment. This satisfying short story merely wets the whistle for the potential contained within.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

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: Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon (Day by Day Armageddon, #1)Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s much to like in zombie epics as they explore the fragile constructs of humanity. As most of the populous succumbs to the epidemic literally turning human to inhuman, each survivor is tested on their personal resilience and humanity as it relates to empathizing with others and perhaps banding together. As the epics move away from “Day One,” they inevitably start to explore higher levels of humanity in the modes of society and government once the pre-apocalyptic has been washed away.

The graphic novel series [and television show], The Walking Dead covers the latter issues with much exploration and depth. While the novel series, The Alpha Plague by Michael Robertson, details the opening 48 hours of such a plague over a couple books before opening into the latter topic.

This brilliant series set in the form of a journal by one survivor will appeal to fans of both. An Arkansas native stationed in San Antonio for Naval Flight School makes a New Year’s Resolution to keep a journal. By his second entry, Jan 02, an epidemic is rumored to be spreading across China. By the end of the month, it’s everywhere . . .

The journal-entry method of story telling works extremely well here as it delivers what the hero knows, when he knows it. His mindset changing is chronicled hour by hour. Margin notes presumably made by the protagonist help to drive the perspective home as if he’s studying his own thoughts for later review and reassessment. Luckily, he’s not alone in the world. Just a couple doors down, a neighbor and his dog are trapped by a moat of the undead . . .

The tale is highly enjoyable and recommended. Also recommended is having as companions in any apocalypse: an athletic guy with military survival training, an engineer, and a dog . . .
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Novel Review: The Apostates, Book 3: Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney

Lake of Fire (The Apostates #3)Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Apostates trilogy [plus 1 prequel short story] concludes with this installment. The grammatical errors and editorial missteps that plagued the trilogy opener pick back up here creating a confused if not painful read.

Taking place in North America, a dystopian government has come and gone after a nuclear apocalypse and environmental breakdown ended the United States. While speculative, the series tweaks history, too, creating a parallel universe to ours. The dystopian government, a cyber-backed theocracy under the long-lived rule of President Shrubb, and its ultimate undoing were the plot of the early books. But it makes reappearances here in scattered scenes throughout the book that usually lack indicators clarifying the chronology. They do little to aid this installment and much to pull the reader from the current storyline.

President Shrubb is a clear reference to President George W Bush and his anti-science, religiously inspired leadership. But from there, previous installments took an Orwellian development in layering society with acronyms of a doublespeak nature. It was clever and effective–then. Now in the wake of the theocracy, new governments have emerged in city-states across the continent to try to undo the damage. However, they’re still using the former system’s acronyms which places them out of context. The series also doubles down on the references to current politics veering the tale toward a Mad Magazine style spoof. Haliburton becomes Halibut. Google becomes Boooogie!. Rahm Emmanuel [current mayor of Chicago] becomes Ram Manual. It’s too much. And unnecessary. And all taking place in the throwback scenes not aiding the plot.

Other missteps doom the immersive quality of this tale. 1) Too many chapters starting with a couple long paragraphs that refuse to name the subject character, instead repeating “he/she” as if the subject should be a mystery. 2) Repeatedly defining terms which have been established. [“Pinging” is communicating via neural implant. So, always saying “pinging via neural implant” is redundant.] 3) Repeatedly comparing landmarks to current American ones, thereby not believing in its own overlay. ie Saying what a city or park used to be called. 4) The throwaway, sexist handling of crowd scenes with sweeping general terms. [The men did “x.” Women screamed. Children cried. Over and over again.]

Finally, the book has an epilogue. And shouldn’t. The scene has no bearing and I suggest not reading it. It’s akin to the final episode of the television series “Lost”, reveling in itself but opening new, unexplained topics.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed the other books in this series:
     New Megiddo Rising (Apostates, #0)–4 stars
     The Apostates (Apostates, #1)–2 stars
     The Apostates: Remnants (Apostates, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Adakian Eagle by Bradley Denton

3 of 5 stars.

Detective thriller meets World War II historic fiction in this novella set in the Aleutians when a private finds first a ritualistically slaughtered bald eagle on a wind-swept volcano on Adak. He returns to the scene of the crime to find a murdered Navy grunt.

What unspools is a tale of power, corruption, intimidation and canny detective work on the part of the Army base’s lead news reporter. Profound rifts divide the island’s inhabitants: native and military, enlisted and officer, army and navy. Distrust run deep. Echoes of A Few Good Men reverberate through the story.

A supernatural element comes into play when the private and the detective go on an Aleutian vision quest for answers. It’s an unnecessary plot device akin to finding a magic mirror to reveal all of the elements . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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