Sunday, May 27, 2012

McRath, Aged Traveler of the First Expedition (2012)

Manni McRath, Aged Traveler of the First Expedition. Self-Published, 2012. Pp. c.50. ASIN B007LTM7IQ. $0.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Ostensibly, this short story in three chapters is a thought-map of a man’s mind as he faces the long, empty years of a deep space mission to a new planet. He appears to be latching future hopes on this planet, and as his ‘story’ continues, it seems that he has much thinking and worrying to do about the ethics of the mission, his crewmates, his position on the mission and his wider concerns with his position as a universal man. The mission takes, we are told, the better part of fifty years to travel, study and return to the home-world. Unfortunately, it feels like fifty years in the reading.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Edwards, Dome City Blues (2011)

Jeff Edwards, Dome City Blues. Stealth Books, 2011. Pp. 316. ISBN 978-0983008569. $12.99.

Reviewed by Jessica Nelson

The year is 2063. Rampant disease has wiped out a third of the human population, and most of the other two thirds have been driven to living in dome cities for protection from pollution and harmful UV rays. This is where former detective David “Sarge” Stalin thinks he’s going to live out his retirement as a metal sculptor; that is, until he’s approached at a bar by a beautiful woman who needs his help. Suddenly, Detective Stalin finds himself perched on the edge of a war between man and machines as he tries to solve a string of serial killings that the police have already closed the books on... twice.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ashcroft, Supervillain (2012)

Ras Ashcroft, Supervillain: The Concise Guide. Indie, 2012. c.26000 words. ASIN B0076ZZCIC. $0.99 / £0.77.

Reviewed by RJ Blain

Have you ever wanted to be a villain? Or, dare I ask, a supervillain? If so, Supervillain: The Concise Guide may just be the book for you. Written in a self-help style that openly mocks the finance world, this parody pokes fun at those who want to go from rags to riches based off of the help from a book by presenting reasonable methods of becoming a modern-day villain.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lantz, Gnit-wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague (2011)

T.J. Lantz, Gnit-wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague. Amazon Digital Services, 2011. Pp. 42. ASIN B006AXG2Z8. $0.99.

Reviewed by Kate Onyett

This is one cute little button of a short story. Gnipper, an aspiring (an often disastrous) scientific gnome, dreams of earning her tall hat of honour within her community. However, every project she tries to prove herself has ended in disaster. The day we join her, she has a final, drastic plan to showcase her talents in the lab, dabbling with biological manipulation. Unfortunately, the cure she has created doesn’t quite work, and her subject falls into real danger. Even more unfortunately, it is her single remaining parent: her somewhat arrogant intellectual of a father.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Devenport, Spirits Of Glory (2011)

Emily Devenport, Spirits Of Glory. Self-published, 2011. Pp. 113. ISBN 978-1-4523-3158-4. $0.99.

Reviewed by Paul Wilks

Spirits of Glory, available through Smashwords, is a beautifully crafted young adult story based in the futuristic/speculative colony world of Jigsaw, where the existence of ghosts and gods is as normal and expected as driving down a highway and taking a toilet break. The protagonist Hawkeye is an astute, intelligent and refreshingly vulnerable character, and this is as much a coming of age tale as it is a curious and well-paced exploration of wider themes such as identity, otherness and disability.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tyler, Shadow on the Wall (2012)

Pavarti K. Tyler, Shadow on the Wall. Fighting Monkey Productions, 2012. Pp. 215. ISBN 978-0-9838769-0-8. $11.95.

Reviewed by Kathryn Allan

Pavarti K. Tyler’s Shadow on the Wall: Book One of the Sandstorm Chronicles promises to be a new take on the superhero mythos by challenging the current trend of Islamophobia in the United States with its lead, Recai Osman: “Muslim, philosopher, billionaire, and Superhero” [backcover]. Set in modern day Elih, Turkey (Elih is the Kurdish name for the real Turkish city of Batman), Tyler creates a not-so-imaginary world of corruption and oppression that is “all in a day’s work for the nefarious RTK, the brutal, self-appointed morality police” [backcover]. Basically, the narrative follows the trials and tribulations of Recai, a spoiled—but disenfranchised—playboy who wakes up in the desert one day and must rely on the kindness of strangers in a hostile land. Recai is a difficult character to like, and Tyler takes her time with his transformation from mere man to the superhero, The SandStorm. Aiding him on his journey of self-discovery are an old Jew, Hasad, and a young Muslim nurse, Maryam.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flowers, Gaelen’s Gold (2012)

M. K. Flowers, Gaelen’s Gold. Kestralane Publishing, 2012. Pp. 544. ISBN 978-0-9832429-0-1. $14.95.

Reviewed by Martha Hubbard

A common elf out hunting finds a mysterious box with a baby girl in it. He leaves her with a childless dwarven couple. Sixteen years later, the baby, now grown into a prodigious young woman named Gaelen, learns that she is a wizard and that the High Elves hunting her have decreed she must die because she is a powerful mana or magic user. This enormous book by father and daughter writing team M. K. Flowers, Gaelen’s Gold incorporates a number of familiar fantasy themes: coming of age, evil or misguided rulers and finding ones place in life—to list just a few. Along the way we meet more elves, scores of soon-to-be-dead goblins, dwarves, stone giants, wood fairies, more wizards and a cheerful dragon, Luminant. Dedicated to a dead brother and son, and described as “a labour of love,” I wish I could say I enjoyed reading this book. The authors have pulled together a vast assortment of tropes from Tolkien, Game of Thrones, the Bible and Walt Disney’s Fantasia. The description of the dwarf schoolhouse evokes The Flintstones. Just getting to the end of the pages was a prodigious task.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sales (ed.), Rocket Science (2012)

Ian Sales (ed.), Rocket Science. Mutation Press, 2012. Pp. 314. ISBN 978-1-907553-03-5. £8.99.

Reviewed by Terry Grimwood

This is a drop of the hard stuff, raw science fiction, where the science informs and dominates. There are, as the editor points out in his introduction, no space ships in this book. The void is not seen as an ocean traversed by submarines and battleships with rocket engines, but a totally alien, inhospitable, nightmarish environment in which man struggles to travel, plunder, colonise and simply survive.

I approached the book with trepidation. Yes, I cut my reading teeth on Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein (they were all still very much alive and busy writing when I was a callow youth), I loved Niven, Leinster and Clement and will even dip in the odd Stephen Baxter now and then but I am usually more interested in the philosophical, political and sociological side of science fiction. Yet I was immediately at home here, comfortable and in many cases utterly riveted.

So, too much hardware? Too much pedantic science and insistence on accuracy of background? Well, there is a sense of scientific rigour, there are no vast and wondrous extra-terrestrial civilisations, there are no ray guns and square-jawed heroes. And to cap it all, there are factual articles to give the book even more scientific credibility.

But most importantly, there is humanity and heart.

Each of these stories is set in a world of very convincing scientific advancement, and while that framework is extremely important and effective in painting each individual world, it is the people, the characters, that are the ultimate focus.

In ‘Sea of Maternity’ by Deborah Walker, for example, we have an intriguing glimpse of the rigours of living in a lunar colony. Innovative ways have been developed to protect the inhabitants from lethal washes of radiation sent out by the sun. The first generation have survived and the second are growing up through adolescence toward adulthood. Yet all is not well, the children of the moon are as restless and rebellious as their earthbound counterparts. This is a marvellous story, and in a few thousand words, ‘Sea of Maternity’ gives us the vast backdrop and convincing history of the colony, and at the same time focusses tight into a fraught mother-daughter relationship that encapsulates the whole issue of lunar colonisation.

The International Space Station features in two stories, although both are slightly flawed, one of them, ‘Final Orbit’ by Nigel Brown, has a beautifully tense build-up to a surprising dénouement that doesn’t quite work for me. The other, Dr Philip Edward Kaldon’s ‘The New Tenant’, featuring (I can’t put my finger on why) a somewhat irritating heroine in a genuinely compelling situation.

‘Dancing on the Red Planet’ by Berit Ellingsen shows that even writers of hard sf have a well-developed sense of humour. This is the tale of the first men to set foot on Mars, and how they celebrate their Great Moment. There is also ‘Going Boldly’ by Helen Jackson which relates the adventures of Frankie, a Character Technical Director: Alien Morphologies in a software gaming company, when she is sent on a quest to study real life anatomy in an effort to enhance the latest game.

Contemporary issues are confronted in the very even-handed and powerful ‘Conquistadors’ by Iain Cairns, when the rights of humankind to rip vital resources from other worlds are in passionate dispute. Surely this is one of the true functions of science fiction, to analyse present day issues and examine them from the fresh perspective of the future, or by looking in from beyond the boundaries of our own familiar world.

The factual articles are utterly fascinating and every one, lively and compelling. For example Eric Choi’s ‘Making Mars a Nicer Place’, or Bill Patterson’s ‘A Ray of Sunshine’, which explains the almost insurmountable problems of solar radiation in space. A canny ordering of the fiction placed some relevant stories adjacent to these articles. One story, however, placed itself halfway between fact and fiction; ‘Dreaming at Baikonur’ by Sean Martin is a very human and moving account of a Russian rocket scientist and his brutal vicissitudes through the dark days of the Stalinist era. Definitely one of my own favourites.

Terry’s choice was a tough one to make. The opener, Leigh Kimmel’s ‘Tell Me A Story’, the tale of a children’s book through the centuries, took a place in my reading heart. Martin McGrath’s ‘Pathfinders’ is an intense, moving story of another Mars mission. However, The One is a very clever and convincing retelling of the Space race. I will not give the game away or even reveal the title because the joy of this story are the surprises and trip wires it stretches across the reader’s path.

My recommendation? Even if you are put off by the term “Hard SF” and are nervous of negotiating zero-g, aphelion, radiation, weightlessness and the dynamics of re-entry, give this book a try. The hardware, the steel and plastic actually emphasise the sheer fragile-yet-iron tough humanity of its protagonists. The real winner here is the human spirit.

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