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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Back Doors of Fancy Places by Anderson Ryle

The Back Doors of Fancy PlacesThe Back Doors of Fancy Places by Anderson Ryle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This curious, short tale has the detective noir voice, scenery and pacing headlined by possibly the world’s worst detective. He manages to solve and resolve practically nothing and cannot tell when a clue or coincidence could be pertinent.

“My mother always used to say I would never make it as a detective, said I trust people too quickly . . . “

. . . She leaned in closer than she needed to as he fumbled with his lighter. She smiled from beneath her dark hat and took a long drag. “Go on, Stranger,” she said.

The wannabe detective trustingly relates details of three curious cases or situations to a sexy woman he doesn’t recognize in a dark alley behind a club. The 3 scenarios involve 1) the strangest thing he’s noticed while wandering the streets [dodgy thugs possibly disposing a body], 2) a case looking for a runaway, and 3) a missing person’s case. He solved none of these cases and seems genuinely not curious about coincidences and details in all three cases.

He’s also not curious about the attention he’s getting from the strange woman in the dark alley.

Even as it becomes clear that the situations might be interconnected, the “detective” does nothing with that information and the entire evening remains unresolved. Somehow, this tale seems like the first part of a two-part sitcom detective show–and then the second part never airing.

The overarching plot holds much potential to be truly interesting and deliciously nefarious, however, that potential isn’t quite reached in this stand alone tale.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley

Clay Tongue: A NoveletteClay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful modern day folktale as a girl explores the scary and wondrous world beyond her house in order to alleviate the family’s frustrations in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s stroke. He’s been left aphasic, and the stress of caring for him weighs on the girl’s mother. The tale builds on the Jewish lore of the golem, a clay-made servant that has the ability to grant wishes. Though, with a girl turning toward fantasy, albeit unknown potentially scary fantasy, in order to solve a family’s problems, one is reminded of a less-dark Pan’s Labyrinth.

The seed for young Katie’s adventure is planted when she secretly reads her grandfather’s notebook containing either a story he’s written or a journal entry he’s made. The tale is unfinished, but tells of a young married couple many decades ago moving into a house just like her grandfather’s house that she lives in with him and her parents. The house in the notebook is in her town. And the name of the young bride is Kate’s grandmother’s name. When the couple move into the house, they are told of a cave in the back forested part of the property which–legend holds–houses a golem made by the original owner of the house. The golem was created to grant one wish to each person who dared visit it.

Even with such ripe fodder for the imagination, Kate’s brave adventure amusingly cites other fantastical creatures. With a mysterious key in hand, she finds a cave in the forested back part of the property:

Right above her head was an iron lock with foreign characters cut into it. Katie knocked, waited for a moment, hoping that maybe a friendly troll or fairy might answer. No answer came–so if there was a troll on the other side, it wasn’t a nice one . . .

The cave rumbled, as if from a minor earthquake. Katie stopped, and a deep growling noise reverberated from deep inside the cavern–a low, guttural moan, as if a dragon had just awakened . . .

“I’m here,” she whispered to any friendly trolls that might hear her.

This tale is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Viral Fire by Martin McConnell

Viral FireViral Fire by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella slightly expands the sci-fi world of The Viral Series as programming wunderkind, Robert, starts to work with the state and military to contain and stop the cyber virus threatening to shut down the world.

The world’s reliance on cyber-connectivity is rather complete. Neural implants act as smart phones. Cars have been completely on the grid for decades. Nearly all aspects of life are linked in. The virus disrupts and spreads, glitching as it goes. But more importantly, in defense, it can manipulate the mindset of people through their neural links and environments. It’s effectively murdered its creator and a military squad aiming to shut down the offending servers.

Robert has a connection to one thread of the virus, Bee, which for a while inhabited his data pad.

The series leaves me wanting more in both good and bad ways. I wish to see more of the world and to understand the broken connection between humankind and nature as characters rarely leave the building they both work and live in. I wouldn’t mind if these novellas were bulked up into novels. However, the thriller aspect is paced right and appropriately laid out.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously reviewed Viral Spark in this series.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.

This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.

–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides.
–Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes.
–Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder.
–Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter.
Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem.
Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Uprising by Kachi Ugo

The UprisingThe Uprising by Kachi Ugo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There’s an ethical conundrum that asks: If you could travel through time and go back to when Hitler was an innocent baby, would you/could you kill him? This novella seems to revolve around this very question. And then lets the question linger.

Two elemental magic users representing the most powerful coalition of elementals travel back in time about 60 years to collect a baby that will grow up to be an awful, awful person. A Voldemort, perhaps. Never is a single atrocity, or crime cited and linked to the baby keeping that important aspect of the story cloaked, or just underdeveloped.

Interestingly, some characters appear in both time lines. Better yet, their positions in the government and in their relationship to the baby or to the kidnapping can oppose their other self. This is a clever contradiction worth exploring but left curiously quiet.

Rather, the book focuses on the mother [Sarah] of the kidnapped child. She’s a flawed elemental with anger issues stemming from being the mother scorned. Her husband is high up in the organization that likely took her child which puts her at odds within her own household. I call her flawed due to her lack of a moral compass. By the start of the book, she has started an uprising gathering over one thousand followers in opposition to the elemental government. She knowingly sets them all up for slaughter for a single siege to perhaps gather a single clue or tool in the drive to reclaim her stolen baby. What type of person would kill 1000 supporters just to open a door that they know their baby is not behind? She’s been wronged, but she’s also an awful person. And the story does not do enough to support this position.

The tale is also full of contradictions other than the purposeful time-bending ones. In the beginning of the tale, Sarah’s husband calls her to talk her out of the action she’s about to do. He knows what she’s doing and cites details. The government knows too, he says, and is expecting her. Much later in the book, he claims to her that he did not know that it was her that did what she did. [Except that he was also on the phone with her while she was doing it and well aware at that point.]

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed this author’s The Great Hunt.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

SnapshotSnapshot by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like a blend between Minority Report and Inception this tale has police detectives enter highly detailed simulated scenes from the past to unravel crimes. These scenes are called snapshots, and only the investigators know that they are real as the simulations of everyone else only thinks they’re real unless proven otherwise.

Twists happen, as the investigators decide to step outside of the crimes they’re sent to investigate, in favor of some they aren’t . . .

While comparisons can be made to other tales, what’s really interesting in this tale is what it doesn’t explain. The actions are taking place essentially currently, except the world is not the Earth we know it to be. The United States is not what it was in this divergent timeline in which city-states populate North America. Also merely dangled off-page is the process by which “snapshots” are created. Intriguingly, some sort of biological element or cryptozoological creature is involved. This world begs for another tale to be set here.

I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Dreamer”–4 stars
     Skin Deep (Legion, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]