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.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

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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Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror:2016 edited by Paula Guran

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2016 EditionThe Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2016 Edition by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paula Guran [editor] and Prime Books here release another solid anthology in their annual collection of the best dark short fiction. One novella rounds out the short stories covering the horror to thriller to dark fantasy spectrum.

My favorite’s, all earning 5 out of 5 stars, were:
–Angela Slatter’s novella, Ripper, an imaginative supernatural retelling of the unsolved Jack the Ripper tale that brings to light gender inequities and how that may have compromised the investigation.
–Dale Bailey’s short horror tale, “Snow”. A small party of friends survives the opening days of an apocalyptic pandemic only to find themselves ill-prepared to face their inner fears and loss of humanity.
–Priya Sharma’s disturbing modern creature fantasy, “Fabulous Beasts”, which shows a family of transmorphic snake people and their unsettling history of incest, rape, abuse, and survival.

I reviewed every tale included in the anthology. Also included are:
Armstrong, Kelley–“The Door”–4 stars
Black, Holly–“1Up”–4 stars
Jones, Stephen Graham–“Daniel’s Theory About Dolls”–4 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
Kishore, Swapna–“The Absence of Words”–4 stars
Lopresti, Robert–“Street of the Dead House”–4 stars
McGuire, Seanan–“There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold”–4 stars
Mills, Daniel–“Below the Falls”–4 stars
Muir, Tamsyn–“The Deepwater Bride”–4 stars
Walters, Damien Angelica–“Sing Me Your Scars”–4 stars
Wehunt, Michael–“The Devil Under the Maison Blue”–4 stars
Campbell, Rebecca–“The Glad Hosts”–3 stars
Files, Gemma–“Hairwork”–3 stars
Gaiman, Neil–“Black Dog”–3 stars
Liu, Ken–“Cassandra”–3 stars
Shirley, John–“Windows Underwater”–3 stars
Valente, Catherynne M.–“The Lily and the Horn”–3 stars
Wilson, Kai Ashante–Kaiju maximus: ‘So Various, So Beautiful, So New'”–3 stars
Bulkin, Nadia–“Seven Minutes in Heaven”–2 stars
Hannett, Lisa L.–“A Shot of Salt Water”–2 stars
Langan, John–“Corpsemouth”–2 stars
McDermott, Kirstyn–“Mary, Mary”–2 stars
Ptacek, Kathryn–“The Greyness”–2 stars
Robson, Kelly–“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill”–2 stars
Samatar, Sofia–“Those”–2 stars
Warren, Kaaron–“The Body Finder”–2 stars
Headley, Maria Dahvana–“The Scavenger’s Nursery”–1 star

I received this anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015.

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Ripper by Angela Slatter

RipperRipper by Angela Slatter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The intrigue and mystery of notorious crimes has a long memory. None more so than Jack the Ripper, the sordid landscape Whitechapel London, and the horror of five grotesquely mutilated bodies. The five victims were all female prostitutes. This surely put the target on them, but did it also slow the investigation? Would more resources have been allocated to this unsolved crime if the victims had been from a more distinguished caste of society? Did sexist double standards play a role in what has undoubtedly a sexist Victorian England?

Historically fictive accounts of the Ripper have embraced the detective and thriller genres and sometimes even steampunk. Here, the novella takes an urban fantasy approach with witchcraft and supernatural motives layered onto the detective and thriller genres. Most satisfyingly, the gender issues are explored and embraced at many levels. What double standards led to the women becoming prostitutes? What were the current relationships with men for these married [yes, married] women? Importantly, it also asks whether the male investigators were adequately inspired to solve the crimes and right headed in their efforts to do so.

Apprentice Investigator Kit Caswell wants to unravel the secrets surrounding the gruesome murders of 2 local Whitechapel prostitutes. But Kit has secrets, too, that could aid and undermine the investigation. She’s illegally impersonating a man to hold the job. That’s the only way she can earn enough to support her less-than-sane mother and her sickly younger brother. She happens to be good at her job. But she has her naysayers in the department, along with her advocates.

Out on the street, one particular neighborhood denizen sees right through Kit’s disguise. Mary Jane is a low-level witch, friend of both deceased, and a prostitute with a target on her back . . .

This highly recommended tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Female Factory”, “A Good Husband”, and “The Song of Sighs”


 

 

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