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.

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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 bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Landscape with Intruders” by Jean-Claude Dunyach

3 of 5 stars.

Notably, the inaccurate model of electrons politely sticking to their orbits as they revolve around an atom’s nucleus resembles the simplified model of the solar system. Then again, the more accurate electron cloud of possibilities might be said to resemble the Oort cloud of comets. It’s all about scale. On Earth, humans inhabit the macro scale where we fail to notice mites, bacteria, viruses and nematodes. One can only wonder at the view from the micro perspective.

This tale delves into the notion of scale as a frontier scientist sets out on a lonely mission to look for disturbances in the Northern Canadian expanses that could be affecting animal migrations and possibly forest fires. What he finds after a naked drunken evening under the stars is his own body colonized like a memorably distasteful episode of pubic lice. Worse, the colonizers seem very aware of him . . .

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 bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Two Paupers by C. S. E. Cooney

The Two Paupers (Dark Breakers Book 2)The Two Paupers by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many things hold true power in this world and in others just beyond the Veil: love, kindness, and creation [as in honest, unfettered artistic creation]. But none of these is necessarily the easiest path, and that is the crux of their power.

With a rogue’s tone not unlike Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards and a convoluted relationship between this realm and a Fae realm, such as in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, this novella presents a stand-alone sequel [indeed, I haven’t read the first, but will now . . .] in which two talented but struggling artists dance around some very grave issues. Gideon, the well-heeled sculptor, has been cursed to carve statues that come to life like warrior golems. He destroys them almost as soon as he makes them. Analiese, the farm-born writer living next door, sees one not yet destroyed the moment its eyes open. Knowing its fate, she steals it away to save it.

She hides the golem away at her newly married friend Elliot’s house. He’s a talented painter and married to the ex-Queen Nix of the Fae Realm. It’s one of the usurpers in Nix’s absence that has cursed Gideon to make warrior golems in order to build an army and secure secession to the throne.

Loyalty to each other, wit, talent and artistic vision all play an intricate role as each tries to secure the best outcome for all the players involved and keep the others safe from harm . . . In a word, this tale is brilliant.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

2 of 5 stars.

Art and how it’s perceived changes over time and in how it interacts with the observer and the observer’s experience. Some art embraces these qualities and likewise changes over time forcing it to be differently perceived.

This futuristic tale shows a new form of art, Evolutive Painting, and one particular collector of it. Evolutive art changes in a couple ways. 1) It reacts to the observer(s) in subtle ways. The more observers, the more chaotic the changes. 2) It changes by leaning into a series of closely related but different realities and universes.

Two competitive collectors come head-to-head if not face-to-face (due to Greshmenn’s decades-long reclusive tendencies). One day Greshmenn is solicited by a man that wants him to rate and review a vast collection of thousands of pieces of Evolutive Art. The individual pieces start to react off of each other and the collector . . .

Much of how the world works is left unexplained. The characters and plot are a means to an end, there merely to create the final scene with its dramatic shift to a new POV.

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: “Time Bomb Time” by C. C. Finlay

4 of 5 stars.

Mysterious thing, time. Powerful, and when meddled with, dangerous.

–Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This clever, if not brilliant, vignette has college friends and ex-sweethearts, Hannah and Nolon, in Hannah’s dorm room overlooking a student protest on the quad which is receiving local news coverage. Neither cares about the protest, but Nolon’s desperate for academic affirmation and exposure after being dismissed from his scholarly pursuits for following a fringe theory–he wants to manipulate time itself. [Note that both names are palindromes–that’s no accident.]

Hannah’s paranoid about the keg-sized bomb-looking device that Nolon has dragged into her room. In their collective anxiety, their conversation ricochets from their past relationship, to Nolon’s academic career, to what he hopes to accomplish today. Namely, he wants to create a time-bubble in which those affected would run backwards through time for a short period before reverting to forward, but now temporally offset from the greater world. Clocks would measure the time rift.

The tale takes shape as a one-room drama, of sorts, until it turns and runs paragraph after paragraph, and page after page, in reverse order. Every action, and every snippet of dialogue still makes complete sense if not better sense than the first time. The question is, at which point is time running in which direction?

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: “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows” by John Langan

3 of 5 stars.

All too often teens and parents don’t talk about the parents’ experience as teens, whether it’s generational amnesia or propriety’s sake. Yet there could be lessons learned as teens interact with the world in a particular way–their world views are opening, they are exposed to new ideas and art and music and forms of expression and belief. There’s the pressure to understand new groups and possibly to belong. And there’s the access to mind-altering substances.

This tale sits somewhere between urban legend and urban fantasy as a father writes his son a letter as a follow-up to a question posed by the son:

What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you–I mean, the weirdest?

The father hesitates to answer such a dangerous question, especially having spent years trying to forget . . . Notably, he also references the lack of openness and understanding between himself and his own parents. But then he launches into his story about when he met a girl in high school and then her group of friends which exposed him to new music that ripped his world right open . . . literally . . . [and I don’t misuse the word literally].

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read Langan’s “Bloom”, “Children of the Fang”, and “The Wide, Carnivorous Sky”.
 
 
 
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