Short Story Review: “Less Than Zombie” by Douglas E. Winter

Less Than ZombieLess Than Zombie by Douglas E. Winter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This tale responds to the Post-Modern classic, Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel. Perhaps it makes this tale too narrowly aimed for the literary critic. Reading Ellis’ novel first isn’t necessary, but recognizing where it’s coming from helps.

Ellis’ novel incorporates all of the depraved and callous decadence of works like William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which depicts the sexually loose and drug infused world of the fringe beats drifting between Europe and North Africa in the 1960s and applies it to the 1980s teen culture of urban and suburban upper middle class America which saw heroin epidemics around Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Both novels offered POVs through the lens of shifting drug hazes, loose fluid graphic sex and sexuality, prostitution, rape, snuff films and dead bodies. Both were received incredulously by those who couldn’t fathom what could bring society to this lowered state.

An answer is provided in this short tale, in which the speaker and his social circle are beyond jaded one year into a zombie apocalypse. Written in the style of Ellis’ novel, scenes are lifted from the novel and overlaid with undead, albeit without the tongue-in-cheek of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies turn on Jane Austen’s more famous novel.

Does this take somehow lessen Ellis’ work? Yes and no. Yes, in that it provides a more palatable reason [zombies] for the decadence than the practically “no reason at all” in the original. The original is so shocking that it isn’t believed by many to be possible. But I vote, “No.” This doesn’t lessen Ellis’ work. It shows the door that would send much of society down this very route. Zombies as a genre have evolved from tales of ghouls without social implications into complex social commentaries showing the tenuous hold on civility that actually exists. One hurricane, one riot, and an entire social structure can crumble. Humanity has shown this repeatedly.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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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.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Darkness Upon the Deep” by Hristo Goshev

4 of 5 stars.

Appearing in Aurora Wolf, a literary journal, this dark Sci-Fi tale looms in Lovecraft’s shadow. Lovecraft wrote of the dark horror strung between the stars. It was vast and maddeningly near-indescribable. And many an author has failed to depict said horror by underdescribing it–writing only works when one writes something. This tale nails it, finding the balance in describing a sensory-deprived situation.

A human battleship, The Bastion, in the Vega system finds itself outmaneuvered and outnumbered in a space battle. They warp into subspace to escape, but not before losing their best pilot in a diversionary tactic. The lost pilot is the speaker’s best friend and blood brother.

The Bastion emerges from warp to find itself–nowhere. No light of stars close or distant. No radio waves. Nothing. Just vast empty impossible space immeasurably beyond all that is known. The physics doesn’t add up, with gravitational waves detected but no mass anywhere. The situation is tantamount to descent into a sensory deprivation tank from which one cannot emerge. The psychological trauma of the situation immediately starts to play out in the madness of the crew. Time itself starts to falter, or is it merely everyone’s grasp on it without points of reference?

The speaker is gripped between his complicated emotions in losing his best friend in a heroic gesture that amounted to the ship ending up like this, and the current situation as it is with madness and suicides thinning the helpful ranks of comrades.

This tale is recommended. It can be found through the journal link above.

I received access of this short story directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Drake Equation” by C. L. Kagmi

2 of 5 stars.

“First Contact,” the moment when an advanced civilization is clued in to the existence of other advanced civilizations based elsewhere in the cosmos, remains a popular theme in science fiction. Humans could react poorly. Or perhaps be primed to be victims in an unequal partnership.

This vignette perhaps depicts a first contact–or–it’s the wild imaginings of a dying mind. Either way, an astronaut is sucked into the vacuum of space when a meteor strikes her space shuttle outside of Mars. Everything takes place within her head from there.

Amid memories of happy times on Earth, an alien voice reveals the conundrum of the Drake Equation which aims to solve the commonality of evolved civilizations throughout the universe. The one astronaut stands as the representative for all of humanity . . .

The tale is too short to give any real connection to the dying hero despite suggestions of kernels from her past. But a deeper tale developing the protagonist would surely shatter the psychological question of whether the events are real or imagined.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Devil’s Rescue” by L. Ron Hubbard

3 of 5 stars.

A psychological ghost tale presents itself when First Mate Lanson of the Gloucester Maid finds himself the last survivor after 21 days adrift on the 19 ft. lifeboat. Over the previous days and weeks, he’s released his captain and other companions’ corpses back into the sea. Now, days beyond food and fresh water and the ship itself slowly sinking with 8 inches on the lower deck, Lanson fights to discern real from hallucination.

Rescue comes in the form of the Flying Dutchman, centuries past its own expiration date. The ghostly crew lack facial features, though Lanson recognizes the deceased captain of the Gloucester Maid among its ranks. Only Captain Vanderbeck of the Dutchman has facial features, and he seems just as surprised to find a living soul on his ship as Lanson does in the deathly ones. The captain gives him rest and medicine before feting him and treating him to an even stranger visitor.

Captain Vanderbeck’s fate is chanced to throws of the dice every 7 years at the hands of the devil. And every year he loses and must serve the next stint on his eternal journey. Being a living soul, Lanson must take up the dice to roll whether he stays on the Dutchman to serve or returns to the sinking lifeboat. It’s a devil’s choice if ever there was one.

This tale is included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33, the anthology of winners of the contest by the same name started by Hubbard. This year’s anthology was edited by David Farland. I’ve previously read Hubbard’s “The Last Admiral” and “When Shadows Fall” included in prior contest anthologies.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Mortal Bait” by Richard Bowes

3 of 5 stars.

New York City plays a strong second character in this 1940s detective noir with a psychological, supernatural bent. Fae and elves both exist on the periphery of humanity within elusive alternate dimensions. They’re at war with each other, and neither tolerates much from humanity. But they’re more than willing to turn humans into unwitting pawns in their long-running hostilities.

Detective Sam Grant takes the cases that look to involve other dimensions. Amid his own WWI flashbacks, he tries to discern what’s real, supernatural, and merely a figment. Unfortunately, both fae and elves have the ability to read minds and scramble memories. Supernatural interference resembles both PTSD and schizophrenia . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed Bowes’ excellent “Sleep Walking Now and Then”.

 
 
 
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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
 
 
 
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