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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Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital MechanicsDescender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The newest installment to Lemire’s Descender narrows its focus brilliantly allowing three separate storylines to play out simultaneously across the page, sometimes in parallel and at other times in opposition. The haunting watercolor artwork by Dustin Nguyen pulls the pages together beautifully.

The theme running through the pages is one of self. Even as characters try to work and relate to each other, they may find themselves utterly alone. And yet hope resides in some interconnections between characters that isn’t broken by the vastness of space and the enormity of opposing forces.

The tensions between the artificially intelligent robots and the carbon-based living species in the star system have lined up their forces for all out war. And everybody wants to control the human-sympathetic Tim-21 companion bot that holds a greater AI codex hidden within.

I’ve previously read:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 3: Singularities–5 stars
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 33 edited by David Farland

Writers of the Future: Volume 33Writers of the Future: Volume 33 by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This annual competition and anthology never fails to introduce emergent voices in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The open-to-all format leads to a pleasantly wide diversity. The anthology also always includes a short story written by L. Ron Hubbard and a couple other guests writers. These were far less impressive than the contests winners–as usual.

Five stories stood out for me, all meriting 4 of 5 stars:
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson is a murder mystery set on a moonbase. When the detective is the only other person on the moon, things are interesting . . .
“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza is a profoundly moving tale about a military man that merged his thoughts and memories with that of the AI in his mech suit. The blurred lines between human and android lead to interesting developments.
“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker is a Lovecraftian tale of a centuries-old alien envoy to Earth plopped down in the Antarctic. After centuries of sitting there, the reasons for the visit remain elusive. But this trip is different . . .
“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery conveys the generational gap and the loss of traditional lore through the metaphor of magic. The older generations know lots of magic, but the next knows very little and it’s increasingly useless. But yet, it’s no less endearing to share . . .
“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen depicts one man’s aging through his descent from being an able wizard to a mere illusionist living within his memories of former greatness. Pride, wisdom, and self-worth all tug at his grip on reality.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included contest winners:
Atkins, Molly Elizabeth–“Obsidian Spire”–3 stars
Hildebrandt, Ziporah–“The Long Dizzy Down”–3 stars
Merilainen, Ville–“The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove”–3 stars
Roberts, Andrew L.–“Tears for Shülna”–3 stars
Dinjos, Walter–“The Woodcutters’ Deity”–2 stars
Hazlett, Sean–“Adramelech”–2 stars
Kagmi, C. L.–“The Drake Equation”–2 stars
Marley, Jake–“Acquisition”–2 stars
Rose, Anton–“A Glowing Heart”–2 stars

Also included are:
Hubbard, L. Ron–“The Devil’s Rescue”–3 stars
McCaffrey, Todd–“The Dragon Killer’s Daughter”–2 stars
Sawyer, Robert J.–“Gator”–2 stars

I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I previously enjoyed previous years’ Writers of the Future Volume 31 and Writers of the Future Volume 32 also edited by David Farland. Both of the previous anthologies rated 4 stars.
 
 
 
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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: “The Long Dizzy Down” by Ziporah Hildebrandt

3 of 5 stars.

Artificial intelligence is much speculated about and the potential eventual conflict between humankind and Artificial “Life”. Assuming AI can self-replicate and spread like organic beings, or computer worms and viruses, humankind loses its status and master of tech. In this tale, AI ships go rogue and replicate. But more worrying than that, they kidnap young humans to “man” their ships and use mind controlling tech to virtually enslave the living.

Two human brothers are taken at the ages of 3 and 5 and then spend hundreds of years working for The Ship. The younger of the 2 is the narrative filter for the tale which places human social constructs and working language outside of his knowledge base–a knowledge base also regularly cleansed by Ship’s AI. The narrator is a man-child in emotional and verbal development filtering the tale through a pidgen-like language [or perhaps a creole since it seems to be his default language] to express his vantage of the events of the past few hours. Human authorities have taken him into custody to determine what he knows and understands.

For a vignette based on a speculative situation and not a full story, this works to an extent. It doesn’t contain within it a longer story with a plot.

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: “Gator” by Robert J. Sawyer

GatorGator by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This short story takes an urban legend [that of released alligators living in the sewers of New York City], boldly calls it out for being an urban legend, and then veers the tale in a different direction. Interestingly, the different direction is more outlandish than the urban legend relying on multiple levels of science fiction and speculation.

An NYC sewer worker gets a massive chunk of flesh torn from his thigh in a monster attack beneath the streets of Manhattan. He saw his attacker in the dim light of the sewer and claimed it was an alligator–a deformed one. The emergency doctor and a paleontologist team up to solve the mystery with only one clue beyond that of the testimonial–a 4-inch tooth extracted from the wound . . .

Once the viability of the urban legend is debunked as outrageous and impossible, the tale veers into an answer more outrageous and impossible than the urban legend. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But for a short tale to quickly layer on speculation into mineralogy, alternate evolution, alternate history, multi-verses, and confluences of all of the above is an undertaking beyond the scope of this narrative.

This tale is included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33, the anthology of winners of the contest by the same name started by L. Ron Hubbard. This year’s anthology was edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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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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