Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fully realized sci-fi space drama beautifully realized by artist Dustin Nguyen cashes in on all of its previously offered potential with this excellent third installment. The first two volumes of this series centered on a 9-planet star system rife with humans and aliens 10 years after an unnatural apocalyptic event wasted large portions of the planets and populations. In that short-lived but huge event, planet-sized robots called Harvesters laid waste to carbon lifeforms. In its aftermath, the survivors declared genocide on all robots working and living within their interplanetary collective despite the lack of evidence that Harvesters and the system’s robots had any connection.

The story centers on a naive, pre-teenaged companion bot named Tim-22 that survived for the 10 years in a sleeplike charging state on an outer mining moon while the populous was evacuated during a poisonous gas leak. His human “brother,” Andy, evacuated, while his mother died on the moon. Tim-22 is wanted by both robot scrappers and the government for his potential link to the decade-old event.

The episode takes a smart step to the side. The component stories each tell the 10 year back story of many of the filler characters, and it’s fascinating. One could sense the richness of the world and its development beforehand, but now it’s laid out clearly and many characters have stepped up from being mere fillers. Expect the story to proceed forward again when the 4th installment comes out.

This series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Liberty: Deception, Issue 1 by Travis Vengroff

Liberty: Deception (Liberty: Deception #1)Liberty: Deception by Travis Vengroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Liberty page 35 colors jpg

Stunning visuals lead the way with this dystopian graphic novel of a sci-fi off-planet society of sheltered “citizens” and starved “fringers” rumored to be barely human cannibals. The State-controlled media keeps a tight rein on its image, its heroes and its enemies of the State. It’s all propaganda with the biggest “hero” being nothing more than a glorified soap opera actor. That is, until his popularity makes him an extinguishable threat, too.

There exists a fantastic Liberty: Deception, Issue 0 showing the bleak life in the fringe. But this 1st issue follows the condemned actor using his fame and subterfuge to make his way out to the fringe. Along the way, he teams up with some of the previously introduced rogue fringers.

This series is highly recommended.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Glad Hosts” by Rebecca Campbell

The Glad HostsThe Glad Hosts by Rebecca Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The biological factoid that bacteria on and in one’s body outnumbers the body’s cells by 10 to 1 is ripe for speculation. One must wonder how integrated the organisms are. What choices are actually compromises for the super-organism that each body represents?

Amid a curious background landscape of a lovely off-world planet, this tale explores the super-organism of a human infected with an alien microorganism. The changes are not altogether unpleasant as the person reacts to the parasite morphing through many different life stages. Her very personality and psychology co-opt and adapt to the changes in a startlingly welcoming way.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Unearthly Landscape by a Lady”.




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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Vol 2: Machine MoonDescender, Vol 2: Machine Moon by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Descender continues it’s exploration of political systems and issues of servitude and enslavement set among the stars. Nine planets, including one of post-Earth humans, have formed a loose alliance in the galaxy. The different races have varying abilities and strengths. However, planet-sized robots called Harvesters, decimated the system a decade ago leading the entire system into backlash and genocide against their artificially intelligent robots, ie robbies.

The series centers on Tim-21, a forever-10 years old companion bot who’s naive and likable. His sentimentality and programming draws him to humans even if they’re out to destroy him. And everyone is looking for him. Deep in his codex lies the key to the Harvesters . . .

Like many great series, a band of misfits representing different cultures and POVs band together around Tim-21 as others merely wish to wield him as a political tool.

Dustin Nguyen’s dreamlike watercolor artwork must be commended. Important images emerge from eerie, alien backgrounds while others are allowed to slip into the colorwash. However, fantastical races still show the details needed to convey otherness even when not in the forefront. The dreamlike quality exists throughout as if the atmosphere itself was bending the light. And yet, when a true dream sequence comes into play, the images depict that, too, even more loosely by erasing the panel lines themselves. These aren’t new techniques, but they’re masterfully handled.

The series is recommended. I’ve previously read Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Asymptotic” by Andy Dudak

3 of 5 stars.

At its best, sci-fi pushes and pulls against the achievements and possibilities of mankind and the very laws and limits of science itself. The laws of science, of course, are not like the laws of man however–they aren’t suggestions with consequences, they are hard and fast rules holding the fabric of the cosmos together as it expands. These are rules not meant to be broken, indeed, it shouldn’t even be possible lest the laws themselves are somehow wrong.

This tale pushes space travel to the extreme by following the very historic and selfish nature of mankind. Regular space travel is ok. Warp speed breaking Einstein’s predictions isn’t as it rips the delicate fabric of the cosmos. To heal the tears, a fee must be paid back in terms of energy and time–like a speeding ticket on a cosmic level. But that is a price some are willing to pay, if just to enjoy the thrill of the vaster universe and otherwise unreachable solar systems.

This tale follows Nuhane through many stages of his extremely, genetically enhanced long life as he and his mentor, and later his intern, hunt down the violators and exact the penalty of stasis for a length of time to off-set the damage done. That term often lasts for millions of years.

But even those enforcing the laws feel the thrill, and must pay the price . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Twelve and Tag” by Gregory Norman Bossert

3 of 5 stars.

One’s personal biography, the stories one tells oneself, slowly drifts over the years further from the objective truth. And then there are the lies one tells–stories meant to deceive others and not oneself. This is a tale of stories and a game in which the players try to determine which of a storyteller’s tales is the true one.

Near the end of the 21st Century, after most of the solar system has been colonized or at least exploited for resources, science allows people to create computer back-ups of themselves and to get high on another person’s memories. Both interestingly skew the concept of truth and deception when it comes to personal stories. In the first, memories can be edited out of a person if the back-up created pre-memory is engaged. In the second, false memories are implanted thereby created a problematic new personal truth.

The crew of the Tethys, a deep ocean hunting ship on icy Europa, likes to spend their downtime playing verbal games. Twelve and Tag is a verbal associative game. The second is a game to distinguish truth from lies. They use this second game to test out prospective new crew members by having them tell 2 tales under the categories of Saddest Moment, Worst Moment, or Weirdest Moment. One tale must be true, the other false. Everybody gets a vote . . .

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: “The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal” by Chaz Brenchley

2 of 5 stars.

With the prospect of discovering life–or better yet, intelligent life–beyond Earth, one of the biggest questions is how humans would communicate with it. We aren’t always the best at communicating with each other. Or even with other forms of life on Earth.

This Lovecraftian tale imagines the colonization of Mars and the discovery of life there in the form of a long-lived creature that undergoes metamorphosis through many vastly different forms from the swimming Naiad, bubble-talking juvenile stage to the dragonesque, flying imago stage in which all communication is electromagnetic resembling a mind-melding telepathy. Most individual attempts to communicate have failed or led to insanity, but some success has been found when groups of people neural link their own thoughts via a mysterious machine and elixir, and reach out to the creature . . .

The idea is intriguing, but the story suffocates under pages of veiled dialogues worthy of a British drama. Whereas, the action is relegated to the fringes.

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: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of DeadAnd You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The noir voice lends itself well to both detectives and mercenaries who often have much in common. It provides the personal perspective and often vulnerability and heart to the trained body and mind. Here, the protagonist isn’t human at all, but the sentimentality inherent in the noir voice shows her weakness as the AI mercenary finds herself caring where she prides herself on being ruthless and detached.

Sentient AI and humans mix in the mobster-inundated, refuse-choked worlds of Jupiter’s moons. Rhye [the hired gun] and Rack [her cyber-savvy partner] find themselves on the wrong side of a job gone bad. Rack takes a body-ending bullet to the face, sending Rhye on a desperate journey to finish the job, save Rack’s consciousness, and not get killed herself.

The narration is gummed up with overly ubiquitous, noir-appropriate metaphors and the necessarily complicated relation of reality to cyber-reality. Despite the imaginative set-up, few surprises arise.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Another Word for World” by Anne Leckie

4 of 5 stars.

The cultural politics of disputed land is rife with tension and prejudices. Think: Kashmir and Palestine. One hopes that pacts are made in good faith and sensitivity. However, far too often common ground is not found and and any sense of understanding is lost in translation.

Set on an off-world planet occupied by 2 different colonizing races, neither of which originated on the disputed planet, this tale brings together the descendants from an historic agreement between the cultures with neither side 100% happy. Ashiban Xidyla of the Raksamat people is the daughter of the woman who’d crafted the treaty. She shares a quiet plane ride with the Sovereign of Iss, granddaughter of the treaty-signing Sovereign of Iss, heading to formally meet and discuss the original pact.

The tale opens with Ashiban concussed and confused amid wreckage as the Sovereign pulls her from the plane. Using a handheld translator, the young Sovereign informs Ashiban that they’d been shot out of the sky by one side or the other and they’re the only survivors. Escaping just before the plane plunges under the mire’s black water, the women run for solid ground away from the pursuing flyers that had attacked them.

This canny tale forces 2 distrustful people to work together to survive, neither knowing which inadvertently represents the side that tried to kill them. Then, they lose the translator . . .

This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “Resurrection Points”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Fift & Shria” by Benjamin Rosenbaum

3 of 5 stars.

This fascinating and peculiar tale deftly manages to not define itself along human terms of experience. That’s no small matter. On the individual level, all of the characters are multi-bodied aliens with mental feeds to link the bodies’ experiences. Socially and culturally, two genders exist [bails and staids] but they don’t align to male and female. Additionally, family units do not resemble the typical human situation. For example, Fift is an only-child staid living with three parents, 2 bails and a staid. The story is odd-enough that I had to add new tags to help classify it.

On a fieldtrip to the planet, kids play out the social prejudices in cruel, bullying ways. Shria, a bail, is teased and mocked by a gang of 3 staids because Shria’s family tried to skirt the social code by having another child without neighborly permission. The family was eventually stripped of the younger sibling after a few weeks of deliberation. Fift opts to befriend Shria and help defend against the bullying while barely able to understand the nuances of the social code of adult society.

Off-world alien stories can help to convey without prejudice issues of race and gender, among other things. The difficult part is truly separating from the reader’s Earth-experience. This tale pulls off that hard trick for what boils down to a story about bullying while also proposing that there are a tremendous number of ways to live, and definitions of family. While not necessarily standing in for a queer model of family and the socially sensitive issue of who has the right to raise children, the analogy cannot be ignored either.

“Fift & Shria” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in Solaris Rising 3.

[Check out my other reviews here.]