Short Story Review: “Saxophone” by Nicholas Royle

4 of 5 stars.

In an interesting twist of alt-history, this tale depicts a ravaged Iron Curtain separating Communist Soviet Union’s sphere of influence from that of NATO’s. The tense border between East and West Germany led to shots fired, war escalating, and eventually biological warfare. Hungary and Yugoslavia are the worst ravaged, with most of the population turned to zombies and a dark trade in live organ harvestings. Harvested American military organs bring an especially hefty price on the black market . . .

The metaphor of zombies as denizens of warzones is both unique and particularly apt. It is a tense and joyless existence. The fully cognizant zombies try to keep their heads together [literally] to keep on going, even after the loss of their “lives”. Memories of better times, ie living times, are bittersweet.

Hasek, the main zombie POV, played jazz saxophone when living, now he doesn’t have the breath for it. Nor the instrument. That doesn’t stop him from fingering his air-sax out of habit as he tries to bring a little imagined joy into his music-less reality.

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Advertisements

Novel Review: Former.ly by Dane Cobain

Former.ly: The Rise and Fall of a Social NetworkFormer.ly: The Rise and Fall of a Social Network by Dane Cobain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cutthroat world of internet startups and social networks reveals its darkest side in this thriller about e-commerce and murder. Most enjoyable are the descriptions of the slapdash, duct tape protocols of the startup office–people living at the “office,” and job interviews at nightclubs.

Dan’s a freelance coder with not enough business coming in. The relationship with his live-in girlfriend has hit the doldrums. Then he lands the interview with Former.ly, an up-and-coming, start-up social networking site . . . for the dead. Clients write their bios while alive, but it doesn’t post until they’ve died. Death = money.

The company runs on high secrecy, sloppy logistics, and the skin of its teeth. Until a company party ends with a murdered journalist. The press is all over it.

The quirky staff of Former.ly feel both the stress and thrill of burgeoning success as questions and deaths propel their business . . .

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.
nbsp;
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Uprising by Kachi Ugo

The UprisingThe Uprising by Kachi Ugo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There’s an ethical conundrum that asks: If you could travel through time and go back to when Hitler was an innocent baby, would you/could you kill him? This novella seems to revolve around this very question. And then lets the question linger.

Two elemental magic users representing the most powerful coalition of elementals travel back in time about 60 years to collect a baby that will grow up to be an awful, awful person. A Voldemort, perhaps. Never is a single atrocity, or crime cited and linked to the baby keeping that important aspect of the story cloaked, or just underdeveloped.

Interestingly, some characters appear in both time lines. Better yet, their positions in the government and in their relationship to the baby or to the kidnapping can oppose their other self. This is a clever contradiction worth exploring but left curiously quiet.

Rather, the book focuses on the mother [Sarah] of the kidnapped child. She’s a flawed elemental with anger issues stemming from being the mother scorned. Her husband is high up in the organization that likely took her child which puts her at odds within her own household. I call her flawed due to her lack of a moral compass. By the start of the book, she has started an uprising gathering over one thousand followers in opposition to the elemental government. She knowingly sets them all up for slaughter for a single siege to perhaps gather a single clue or tool in the drive to reclaim her stolen baby. What type of person would kill 1000 supporters just to open a door that they know their baby is not behind? She’s been wronged, but she’s also an awful person. And the story does not do enough to support this position.

The tale is also full of contradictions other than the purposeful time-bending ones. In the beginning of the tale, Sarah’s husband calls her to talk her out of the action she’s about to do. He knows what she’s doing and cites details. The government knows too, he says, and is expecting her. Much later in the book, he claims to her that he did not know that it was her that did what she did. [Except that he was also on the phone with her while she was doing it and well aware at that point.]

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed this author’s The Great Hunt.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 5 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 5 (The Alpha Plague #5)The Alpha Plague 5 by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Alpha Plague is a British rage-style zombie pandemic. The zombies aren’t dead, merely afflicted, and they aren’t dying off due to their hunting prowess and willingness to eat any animal they can get their hands on. Not that zombie tales are about the zombies–they aren’t. They’re almost always about the societies and relationships between people amidst a horrific backdrop that could turn anybody you love into the “other.”

This episode of the series can be read alone or after just the 4th in the series. The initial trilogy was largely self-contained as it documented the initial 48 hours of the pandemic showing the luck, wherewithal, and canniness necessary in such desperate a situation. The immediate predecessor of this installment jumped a full ten years allowing 6-year old Flynn to become a hormonal–but not annoyingly so–teenager. His perspective is unique in that he doesn’t remember nor understand how society used to work. He essentially knows nobody but his parents and Vicky, the lone survivors of the first trilogy. The ten years pass with them not finding anybody as they hid away in a remote location.

A radio broadcast from other survivors launched an epic journey in book 4 to find Home. Along the way, other groups were discovered. And not unlike in The Walking Dead, most of those groups are disturbed in one manner or another. Slavery. Cannibalism.

This book depicts the cushy life inside of Home. The group lives underground with electricity thanks to a solar panel field they maintain. They have alarms and cameras. Clean water, showers and gyms. They even have an underground farm for raising plant crops. Under Hugh’s leadership and sometimes heavy hand, Home supports about 100 people in a little Utopia. And yet Vicky and Flynn cannot relax.

There’s a strictness to Home, in the name of security. Signs of “plague” or mental illness are dealt with in the harshest possible ways . . . Also, the internal farm is starting to fail with its depleted soil.

The entire series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars

Novella Review: The Adakian Eagle by Bradley Denton

3 of 5 stars.

Detective thriller meets World War II historic fiction in this novella set in the Aleutians when a private finds first a ritualistically slaughtered bald eagle on a wind-swept volcano on Adak. He returns to the scene of the crime to find a murdered Navy grunt.

What unspools is a tale of power, corruption, intimidation and canny detective work on the part of the Army base’s lead news reporter. Profound rifts divide the island’s inhabitants: native and military, enlisted and officer, army and navy. Distrust run deep. Echoes of A Few Good Men reverberate through the story.

A supernatural element comes into play when the private and the detective go on an Aleutian vision quest for answers. It’s an unnecessary plot device akin to finding a magic mirror to reveal all of the elements . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]