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: “Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker

4 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft [and his legions of admirers and adherents] leans into vague descriptions of the horror and awe “strung between the stars” as if there was no way to describe in concrete terms such vastness without losing its edge. And yet this tale manages the task brilliantly.

Centuries prior, an alien envoy plops down in the nearly inaccessible Antarctic. It calls itself “Envoy” but has never answered a single question beyond that. “Envoy from where? Envoy for whom?” The massive being controls the temperature and weather around it, and yet cannot be viewed by satellite, camera or other forms of tech. Yearly, it calls upon ambassadors from a couple nations to visit. A trained team of pilots escort the terrified diplomats to and from the experience. And they leave token gifts then depart with vague notions of duty fulfilled, but nothing gained.

This opening is similar to Warren Ellis’ graphic novel, Trees, in which massive alien towers descend to Earth decades prior, and then . . . nothing. They resist human interference and probing. Their reason, and if they have a reason, remains unknown. In this tale, a glint of the reason presents itself . . .

The pilots, for the first time ever, get word from the Envoy to leave despite the ambassadors not yet returning. Indeed, the ambassadors from Poland and Madagascar are no longer outside the great being. They’ve disappeared. Inside. The thing. That’s never happened before. Disobeying the order and their terror, the pilots approach the Envoy to investigate . . .

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: “It Helps If You Sing” by Ramsey Campbell

It Helps if you SingIt Helps if you Sing by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Religious indoctrination is likened to the mindless motivations of zombies in this short horror story. The metaphor is unsubtle at best while the world-building is undeveloped, since it’s not about the story–merely the satire. A developed story with a subtle metaphor would be more effective.

Curiously, the acceptance of the religion–Christianity in this tale–also numbs the body and comes with castration by its adherents. To become a zombie, is to become less than human; to accept religion, is to become less than human. Ironically, the un-Christian practice of Obeah [voodoo] is the means to creating the intentional zombies in this tale.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. I’ve previously read and reviewed this author’s short story, “Respects”.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: No Rest for the Wicked by Dane Cobain

No Rest for the WickedNo Rest for the Wicked by Dane Cobain
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Science and Religion collide when researchers at the new CERN particle accelerator try to discover the elusive theoretical Boson-Higgs particle, aka the “God Particle.” Despite the misnomer, the particle’s existence has zero bearing on religion, nor does the research conducted prove or disprove or in any way relate to religion nor the existence of a deity. However, that’s a repeated subtheme in the tale here, that somehow CERN research set about to disprove God.

In the fantastical, speculative world of the story, the research unleashes hibernating “Angels.” And they are horrifying. [Think: Dr. Who‘s episode “Blink.”] Angels are supernatural, light-based beings who judge harshly and murder. What’s left unclear is where the angels get their moral-code from. It seems to assume the Bible which clashes with the narrative itself.

Working against the narrative is the short story plot stretched into a novel without further development and the highly disjointed first half of the book. Chapters aren’t chronological, but without a good enough reason to not be. They also jump characters frequently without distinguishing the importance of said characters. 3-4 interspersed chapters taking place a half-century before the events of the tale, would have worked just as well as a single flashback, or better yet, could’ve been omitted for the sake of pace as they added little to the tale.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed this author’s Eyes Like Lighthouses When the Boats Come Home and Former.ly.
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Novel Review: Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon (Day by Day Armageddon, #1)Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s much to like in zombie epics as they explore the fragile constructs of humanity. As most of the populous succumbs to the epidemic literally turning human to inhuman, each survivor is tested on their personal resilience and humanity as it relates to empathizing with others and perhaps banding together. As the epics move away from “Day One,” they inevitably start to explore higher levels of humanity in the modes of society and government once the pre-apocalyptic has been washed away.

The graphic novel series [and television show], The Walking Dead covers the latter issues with much exploration and depth. While the novel series, The Alpha Plague by Michael Robertson, details the opening 48 hours of such a plague over a couple books before opening into the latter topic.

This brilliant series set in the form of a journal by one survivor will appeal to fans of both. An Arkansas native stationed in San Antonio for Naval Flight School makes a New Year’s Resolution to keep a journal. By his second entry, Jan 02, an epidemic is rumored to be spreading across China. By the end of the month, it’s everywhere . . .

The journal-entry method of story telling works extremely well here as it delivers what the hero knows, when he knows it. His mindset changing is chronicled hour by hour. Margin notes presumably made by the protagonist help to drive the perspective home as if he’s studying his own thoughts for later review and reassessment. Luckily, he’s not alone in the world. Just a couple doors down, a neighbor and his dog are trapped by a moat of the undead . . .

The tale is highly enjoyable and recommended. Also recommended is having as companions in any apocalypse: an athletic guy with military survival training, an engineer, and a dog . . .
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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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Short Story Review: “The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman

The Case of Death and HoneyThe Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once one of many serialized detectives, Sherlock Holmes has more than withstood the test of time. He has been canonized as a urban folk hero. Many movies and television series have depicted his tales spun by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and others have reinvented him for the modern era. Countless others have drawn inspiration from him.

This tale shows Sherlock himself as an old man in the decades after he’s quit working directly with his cohort Dr. Watson. It launches from a conversation with his even more brilliant brother, Mycroft, at Mycroft’s deathbed. Mycroft both corrects one of Sherlock’s criminal case solutions and challenges Sherlock to solve the ultimate crime of Death. Sherlock takes up the challenge and it leads him to studying bees and honey-making in the English countryside for the next couple decades . . .

Meanwhile, the tale also shows an elderly Chinese apiarist that’s alone after the long ago death of his wife and infant son. His honey has not proven extraordinary, indeed his cousin’s honey from the next valley is much more sought after. However, Old Gao’s wild black mountain bees prove unique if not particularly aggressive and hard to work with.

One day, an elderly white “barbarian” [Sherlock Holmes] comes to Old Gao’s village with a request of working with his unique bees . . .

This moving tale of two old men dealing with familial loss . . . and bees . . . is moving. It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read Gaiman’s:
     “Black Dog”–3 stars
     “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”–3 stars
     “The Sea Change”–4 stars
     [w/ Dave McKean]–Signal to Noise–5 stars
     [w/ Dave McKean]–The Wolves in the Walls–3 stars
 
 
 
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