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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Novella[s] Review: The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.

The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice TalesThe Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two beloved Victorian Christmas stories get reworked into the same world in this collection of 2 novellas. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King opens the series in a barely re-imagined format. The novella more than just liberally borrows from the original, it offers almost nothing new which is disappointing. Mostly, it seems to be pure set up for Hoffmann’s tinkerer character [Drosselmeyer] to be the main manipulator in other tales now set in his trippy world, one foot in the land of Fae.

The second novella slightly tweaks Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but imagines that the 3 ghosts are Drosselmeier’s doing. More promising is the shift in POV to that of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner that opens the Dickens’ version as the haunt coming before the 3-act spiritual crash course in being a decent human being. The promise lies in the queer re-telling with Marley admitting his forbidden love for Scrooge and taking responsibility for how Scrooge turned out.

Unfortunately, the promise doesn’t pay off with new content, it merely acts as a queer filter as the original novel plays out around it. A veneer of 21st century queer acceptance and psychology is provided by Drosselmeier and friends to the ghost Marley in and around their torment of Scrooge.

Many classical tales have received successful reworks, such as The Wizard of Oz inspiring Wicked. The success comes in the new scenes that shape the original tale anew. It’s all about the new content that applies the new slant. And that’s what’s missing here, new content. It’s scene for scene, the original tale without the original author’s name on it.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Book of the Dead ed. by John Skipp and Craig Spector

Book of the DeadBook of the Dead by John Skipp
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This zombie-themed anthology came out in the 1980s and shows it. At the very least, it makes obvious the more complex view of zombie lit as a genre. These tales stem from an era when zombies had not broken out of B horror films. Many cliches plague the narratives. And often times the zombies don’t move and act in a consistent way which takes seriously the defining situational characteristics they’ve been assigned. That’s a problem. Zombies, by cultural definition, are humans deprived of free will and acting the animal or the manipulations of another [such as a necromancer or obeah/voodoo priest].

There are of course exceptions in a zombie sub-genre where the zombie retains thoughts and memories and must deal with their “condition” as if it were akin to chronic disease. All zombie detectives fall into this category.

Two of the sixteen short stories and novellas rose above the rest for me, meriting 4 stars:
–Glen Vasey’s Choices follows a young man’s journal of the first months of a zombie apocalypse under the looming cloud of knowing that the journal is “found evidence” not accompanied by the writer. His fate resides within the pages. The journal mostly explores the variety of reactions found in the other survivors he meets along his journey.
–Nicholas Royle’s “Saxophone” depicts self-aware zombies living the chronically hampered and deprived life of those behind the iron curtain. The Berlin Wall separates the free from the zombie in this well developed tale of alternate history.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the anthology’s component tales. Also included are:
Boyett, Steven R.–Like Pavlov’s Dogs–3 stars
King, Stephen–“Home Delivery”–3 stars
McCammon, Robert R.–“Eat Me”–3 stars
McConnell, Chan–“Blossom”–3 stars
Nutman, Philip–“Wet Work”–3 stars
Winter, Douglas E.–“Less Than Zombie”–3 stars
Campbell, Ramsey–“It Helps If You Sing”–2 stars
Daniels, Les–“The Good Parts”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
Tem, Steve Rasnic–“Bodies and Heads”–2 stars
Bryant, Edward–“A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned”–1 star
Hodge, Brian–“Dead Giveaway”–1 star
Layman, Richard–“Mess Hall”–1 star
Schow, David J.–“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy”–1 star
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Like Pavlov’s Dogs by Steven R. Boyett

3 of 5 stars.

This novella chronicles two different reactions to a zombie apocalypse and how those reactions abrade each other. The first reaction is one of cool detachment. Out in the Arizona desert, Ecosphere stands as an experiment on the road to Martian exploration and colonization. Eight specialists live in an enclosed system containing multiple ecosystems and hundreds of species both wild and domestic. The social and biological experiment was set to end a long time ago, but with the pandemic, the specialists stayed put ignoring the outer world. Small tensions exist within the 8-person team . . .

Many dozens of miles away, the cities of Arizona are scraped thin by the scavenging survivors. They’ve learned to live with the lumbering dead going so far as to clothe them in ironic t-shirts. [Eat Me, I’m With Stupid, etc] The survivors are grouped like street gangs, each member answering to one or two nicknames. Fights are common; murder not uncommon. One guy gets the idea to check on that place in the desert where they were doing that NASA Ecosphere experiment years before . . .

The characters within the Ecosphere are fully developed, while the city-dwellers are left nearly indistinguishable. The nicknames fail to add description or color to the characters there. Included, also, is a rare perspective from that of a “smart” zombie. It stands without payout, however, as the zombie POV doesn’t arise at the critical moments in the tale.

This novella appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Choices by Glen Vasey

4 of 5 stars.

The modern incarnation of the “found evidence” urban fantasy has someone reviewing video footage of often horrible or unexplained events. Many movie examples demonstrate this such as The Blair Witch Project [a ghost haunting], Paranormal Activity [a demon haunting], and Cloverfield [alien invasion]. The story can be made all the more horrible in knowing that the videographer doesn’t necessarily survive their own video.

Pre-dating the found video is the found journal, or diary. This form has the potential to be even more intimate as the writer can bare their soul into the journal. But it’s also more tenuous–the writer must record everything. And accurately. The potential for personal bias runs very high, whether it be through prejudice, emotion, or misinformation.

This novella follows one young man, Dawson, through his journal after it has reached the hands of researchers. The journal chronicles the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse and Dawson’s next couple of weeks on the run for survival. Mostly, he is alone and fighting madness that seeps into his journal skewing the perspective. Dawson’s ultimate fate and the path of the journal are left to the very end. What the journal portrays the clearest is the human decision to survive come-what-may. It’s a desperate choice in dire circumstances, and not without it’s own madness.

This novella appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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Short Story Collection Review: Remember by Ray Gardener

RememberRemember by Ray Gardener
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Memories are notoriously fickle things. People both remember things that never happened and yet incorporate it into the fiction of their lives, and also forget things without the recourse to reverse the process. Some want to remember; others would do anything to forget . . .

This collection of eight tales examines a multiple of related themes as memories prove their elusiveness. The first six of the eight tales take place in the same world with the same cast of characters. A bit of clever tweaking could have nicely pulled them into a single hefty novella, much the way Gloria Naylor’s brilliant Bailey’s Cafe tells a series of interrelated character tales exploring identity and abuse. Here, the business of remembering and forgetting is monetized with people paying others or for services that will remove memories or plant false memories. People should be careful what they ask for, lest they actually get it. Some want to erase painful memories, others are more playful with their brain health and tweak things for fun or out of boredom.

The very brief seventh tale show a war of the roses between a vampiric love triangle. Vampires have the ability to plant false memories as they seduce. [Think succubus vampires.]

The eighth tale is a novella in which the narrator notices the world changing about her in ways that others do not. People and places seem to be suddenly gone. The psychological play here is nice and spins this tale into a thriller.

In a couple scenes in unrelated tales, I found myself pulled from the story by characters not acting appropriately or competently for their occupation or place in life. Thankfully and redeemingly, on both occasions, the scenes or characters turned out not to be real. They were false memories or experiences, akin to dream logic. Many a thing seems logical in dreams that doesn’t hold up with 15 seconds of lucidity. And yet these out-of-characters sections weren’t over-written which was also nice in that it kept the mystery of what was reliably true hidden.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’ve previously read this author’s The White Room and Other Stories
 
 
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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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