Short Story Review: “Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson

4 of 5 stars.

A beautiful background and strong hook open this sci-fi short story when a woman comfortably awakens in her bed only to see Earth looming overhead through the skydome in her bedroom compartment. Her husband, the only other resident of the lunar biodome [and of the moon, period] isn’t in the bed with her. The casual mystery of his absence turns serious when she finds him in the rainforest dome beneath the chittering bush babies. Dead. Of a stab wound.

NASA confirms that the cameras system winked out hours earlier in an apparent glitch. Suicide? Sleepwalking murder? Or something more nefarious? Gwen keeps her head long enough to reach out the her ex she wronged years earlier. He’s the detective and mystery writer. He’s the ex-fiancee she left for his roommate–her now dead husband on a satellite with a current living human population of 1.

Gwen and Jonas have 5 days to solve the mystery before less caring governmental and business forces come up to clean up and cover up the mess . . .

The tale unspools on multiple timelines after the opening. There’s the baggage-laden history of Jonas and Gwen filtering the lens of the current time murder mystery. Jonas doesn’t sit comfortable in his equal mistrust of Gwen and of government and business interests. Nor has he forgiven his ex-roommate. The pace, tone, and voice make this a winner.

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 Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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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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Anthology Review: The Rotting Cities and Other Stories by Charles E. P. Murphy

The Rotting City and Other StoriesThe Rotting City and Other Stories by Charles E.P. Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of four urban fantasies spans major common themes: zombies, vampires, urban legend, and dystopian apocalyptic. However, none of the tales are run-of-the-mill.

The opening novelette, “The Rotting City,” is the strongest of the bunch. The world is generations past an environmental apocalypse that sank most of the major cities of the world beneath the rising seas. The world economics and academics shifted to formerly third world countries. This is the backdrop to an archaeological excavation at Old London under the heavy eye of a xenophobic, dystopian regime. Unexpected ties to Lovecraftian lore brings this tale home. I highly recommend the tale.

“Graveyard Shift” is a forgettable vignette offering a slightly different perspective from the POV of a zombie.

“The Man Who Knew” is equal parts urban legend and supernatural ghost tale. This tale twists and turns to its surprising end.

Finally, “Down in the Cages” provides a new take on vampire/human relations. The vampire politics and mind games make for an interesting inclusion into the vampire canon. This tale is recommended.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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George Orwell’s 1984 Focus of a New Kickstarter Project

Unsung Stories out of London has been releasing wonderfully original science fiction and speculative fiction for the past couple of years. A few of their titles, by authors included in this new project no less, have made my “Best of the Year” recaps. So, I’m excited by this latest Kickstarter launching today.

The forthcoming anthology supported by the Kickstarter will imagine the world of 2084 in new, original tales by some very talented and boundary-pushing authors:
Jeff Noon
Christopher Priest
James Smythe
Lavie Tidhar
Aliya Whiteley
David Hutchinson
Cassandra Khaw
Desirina Boskovich
Anne Charnock
Ian Hocking
Oliver Langmead

I’ve read 4 novellas by 3 of these authors and highly enjoyed and recommended each. The inclusion of Tidhar, Whiteley and Hocking alone is enough to get me excited. Below are links to what I originally had to say about these authors:
Hocking, Ian–Deja Vu–4 stars
Tidhar, Lavie–“Kur-A-Len”–4 stars
Whiteley, Aliya–
     The Arrival of Missives–4 stars
     The Beauty–4 stars

There’s a bonus for writers in the various tiers of support–one level will put an author’s manuscript into the hands of an Unsung editor for edit and review . . .

Novel Review: World-Mart by Leigh M. Lane

World-MartWorld-Mart by Leigh M. Lane
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An interesting take on a possible dystopian future akin to that of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 sees a world with climate change run amok, natural resources spent, and a near history of pandemic. An oligarchy, awkwardly dubbed The Corporate, maintains a severe caste system with its own easily discernible untouchables known as “deviants.” Between these 2 social layers lie 2 others: the Corps [of lower and middle managers in a world of bureaucracy] and the Mart [of lower tiers of white collar workers].

The tale is filtered through the lens of one nuclear family struggling to maintain their position at the bottom of the Corps tier. Mother Virginia maintains the homestead while also holding a job. Father George reviews case files without critically questioning anything. Teenaged daughter Shelley rides the line between dutiful daughter and curious, rebellious teen. And little Kurt has all the naivety of a typical privileged 7-y.o. Their world is rattled when Deviants execute a limited biological attack on the Humans [non-Deviants] in which a released virus turns the afflicted Deviant.

The premise is interesting. The execution is clunky at best. The world and its history fails to reveal itself organically, but rather relies on info-dumps worthy of droning history books. The characters and their motivations remain flat, and yet rushed. The entire book reads as the idea for a story, rather than as a story itself.

Also working against the story is the inconsistent narration. Most scenes offer the 3rd person POV of one member of the core family followed by a scene from another. Small scenes that couldn’t be witnessed by one of the 4 family members are then given to quick throw-away characters without establishing these one-time voices. Also awkward are scenes from Shelley’s POV. In conversation, she calls her parents Mom and Dad, but in narration from her POV, her parents are called their given names. There are also scenes that re-introduce characters seemingly for the first time who’ve already been introduced and vetted chapters earlier.

This title is meant to open a trilogy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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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.]