Novella Review: Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi

4 of 5 stars.

Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.

For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.

Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade

The Devil's Mouth (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter, #1)The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a particularly well-played prologue to hook the mood and scenery, this vampire hunter series starts on all the right notes. Vampires on the southern US border are preying on illegal immigrants directly and on a legal system that’d prefer to look the other way when it comes to trials of the disenfranchised.

The hero of this tale, Alex Rains, is a Taratino-ish cowboy that’d blend in with the characters of Kill Bill. The campy aw-shucks-t’aint-nothing attitude belies the sword-play martial arts. Early on, Alex meets the ex-cop Carmen desperate for the trail of her sister who’s gone missing after crossing into the New Mexican desert with an immigrant smuggler.

The breadth of the story is guilty fun, if not predictable.

Jen, the character to watch out for, plays medic to the vampire hunting crowd. She hints at a layer of society to which even Alex is unaware. This tease pays off in the brief but poignant epilogue. In a sea of errant author epilogues, this one hits the mark.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Sunlight Society” by Margaret Ronald

3 of 5 stars.

Cyber thriller meets urban fantasy superhero tale when a “nethead” cyber master linked into the various world webs is able to gum up the computing power of an Avengers-like organization to scour for his own interests. They’re looking for a nethead to work with them for the greater good. He wants to know what happened to the girl he loved . . .

The gambits play out nicely with Superhero tropes filling in the scenery.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.

The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.

Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??

The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Last Witness by K. J. Parker

The Last WitnessThe Last Witness by K.J. Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Memory is a tricksy thing. When toyed like in the movie Memento, it’s a solid foundation for a slippery psychological thriller. One’s sense of self and purpose is only as good as what one makes of one’s memories.

In this fantasy-thriller novella, the roguish narrator is a dark hero–perhaps a superhero–with the ability to steal away specific memories from other people. He can do almost whatever he wants, and blank any potential witnesses. This doesn’t work out for his relationships with his family, nor his lover. They’re too complicated, with too many intertwined memories.

The cad becomes a memory-thief for hire, and there’s good money in it from the sort that would hire him. But memories stolen become his own, and it’s not always easy to tell which memories are which or from whom. He half-knows places and people like near constant deja vu . . . As the ultimate witness to so many crimes [because he took the memories on], assassins are often sent his way. But they can be blanked, too, while revealing their patron . . .

One day he takes on charity case, the victim has been assaulted and likely raped. He’s loath to own these memories, but he accepts the case and a few coins. In the avataristic realm where the thought-thievery takes place, the victim’s avatar shockingly appears to defend her memory. She, too, is a memory thief . . .

In a realm with two memory thieves whose lives become entwined, nothing can be trusted.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Heaven Thunders the Truth” and The Things We Do For Love.

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Novella Review: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

The Citadel of Weeping PearlsThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beneath the veneer of speculative science and space opera sci-fi, this convoluted thriller surrounding the disappearance of two women 30 years apart shows the intricate relationships between grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters. A ruling dynasty, culturally East Asian, in outer space finds itself on the brink of war and turning to its own past and ancestors for guidance.

30 years ago, the Empress’ favored daughter broke from the empire and was banished. Her Citadel of Weeping Pearls had the greatest technologies and weapons. Still considered a threat to the Empire, war was sparked, but the The Citadel and all of its inhabitants disappeared without a trace. Unfavored brothers and sisters and the Empress were left with a hole in their lives as vacant as the deep recesses of space.

On opposite sides of the Empire, two scientists are separately working on ways to bridge time by bridging space. This is the only hope for solving the mystery of the missing Citadel of Weeping Pearls. The esteemed court scientist disappears from her laboratory just hours after being visited by a concerned father from the outer reaches–his daughter is pursuing the same time-bending goals with her scientist-friend in hopes of finding closure with the disappearance of her mother who was housed on The Citadel when it vanished . . .

The descriptions of the deep spaces used for the vastness of space has Lovecraftian qualities, albeit without the Old Ones. The crushing madness, however, is present.

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

 

 

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Short Story Review: “In the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden” by Sunny Singh

4 of 5 stars.

The easiest of romances is the distant crush, the imagination’s relationship with a stranger. It gives pleasant (albeit false) memories and adds a bit of happiness to an otherwise lonely reality. This is the tale of a distant crush, a wordless crush. A crush of routine and inferred meaning.

Graham lives a lonely, guarded life–half out of necessity. He works in intelligence, switching up his routes through town, sticking to the foods and drinks and patterns that he’s used to. He notices when things change–that’s what makes him good at his job. He establishes a pattern in his home neighborhood of London, of finishing a crossword on a bench in the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden–always the same bench–and then heading to his quiet pub for a single pint.

One Spring a woman alights on his bench and reads for a spell. Then some weeks later, she comes again. And he notices. Soon, he expects her arrival and notices her aged, simple beauty. But they don’t talk, nor even share a glance. But he crushes on her.

One day, he catches her name when she takes a phone call–Catherine. But he doesn’t use it. However, eventually they learn to say Goodbye to each other. And later yet, Hello . . .

The organic growth of the relationship of strangers is beautifully depicted, as is the interplay between Graham external and internal lives.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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