Wednesday, December 10, 2014

REVIEW: The Immortality Game

Title: The Immortality Game 
Author: Ted Cross
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $12.59 (paperback)
ISBN:  978-0990987710
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I was attracted to this book by two things.  First, Ted Cross, the author, has spent serious time in Moscow, where the story is set, and currently resides in lovely Baku, Azerbaijan.  Second, just look at that cover!  It’s from Stephan Martiniere, one of the premier SF illustrators.

Fortunately, The Immortality Game lives up to its cover.  Set primarily in Moscow in the summer of 2138, the book is the story of Zoya and Marcus.  Zoya is a Russian teenager, who by accident comes in possession of some military cyber-ware.  Marcus is a twenty-something American and former addict of “The Mesh,” an all-consuming virtual reality place. 

Marcus is also being led around by his “dad” – or rather an AI construct that has his dad’s memories and personalities.  Marcus’s dad thinks that Zoya’s cyber-ware, or rather the folks that made it, can be used to download him into a real body.  Alas, said Russian cyber-tech is valuable, and the Russian mob wants it.  Also, the world of 2138 is a radically different place, with what’s left of America being ruled by the Mormon Church. 

This basic setup leads to an action-packed series of events, as the two young people struggle to survive.  Also struggling are the Russian scientists who invented the tech, and pretty much all of the good guys are way out of their depth.  While all of this action is going on, the author doesn’t skimp on character-building.  Everybody, from our leads to the Russian hit men and their bosses, has at least some character arc and development. 

I have to say I also liked the ending.  The author has a chance to go with the conventional “happy ever after” ending but he doesn’t, subverting it while not being a complete downer.  Zoya, Marcus and his “dad” all have more substantial development, which leads them to some interesting places.  I also liked Mr. Cross’s eye for detail.  For example, his Moscow is full of poplar seeds floating like snowflakes in the summer breeze.   


If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed reading The Immortality Game.

9/10

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

REVIEW: Rise of The Spider Goddess

Title: Rise of the Spider Goddess
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre: Fantasy, humor
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $9.89 (paperback)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1502451903
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib


Friend-of-the-blog and generally good egg Jim Hines is a writing machine, having released 10 quite enjoyable novels over the past eight years.  But he wasn’t born such a writing machine – like most “overnight successes” he spent a long time toiling in the trenches.  Jim’s also a giving fellow, and in the spirit of the season he’s decided to give us a special work.

Jim’s latest novel, out today, is called The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess.  Although it’s new to readers, it’s old hat to Jim.  Spider Goddess is Jim’s very first novel-length piece of prose, written back when Jim had hair in 1995.

I called Spider Goddess a novel-length piece of prose because it’s truly bad.  Our hero, Nakor the Purple, likes to hang around watching over-described sunsets while getting into truly unbelievable combat with unknown (and not very competent) foes.  The book also stars an angst-y vampire, an owl (or maybe a falcon, depending on the chapter) and the most cardboard world ever bound between cardboard covers.

There are two things that save Spider Goddess.  First, it’s an object reminder that even good writers started somewhere. More importantly, Jim has a sense of humor, so he’s liberally sprinkled snarky and humorous comments in the book, making fun of his younger self’s (lack of) writing skills.  Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 meets Lord of the Rings.

So, if you’re looking for a humorous diversion, go sneak a copy of Volume 1 (and done) of The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

REVIEW: No Earthly Shore

Title: No Earthly Shore
Author: Jilly Paddock
Genre: SF
Price: $1.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Cathaven Press
ISBN B006XCVC1A
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I frankly don’t remember how I found out about Jilly Paddock’s novella No Earthly Shore, but I did, and I’m glad of it.  Set in a far-future universe, this gentle story is that of Dr. Zuzana Aaron-Jones, Zuzu to her friends, and Boadicea Nantucket, Boodie to her friends. 

Boodie is a young teenager on the human-colonized world Yemitzov Five, and she claims that the squilts – masses of gray tissue that float in the local oceans – saved her from drowning.  More importantly, she claims the squilts are sentient, which could force the human colonists to pack up and leave.  Dr. Zuzu and a team arrive from Earth, and quickly start to investigate.  While they are investigating, romance blooms. 


I found this novella near perfect.  There’s conflict, both between the Earth team members and internally (Zuzu doesn’t want the humans to have to pack up and leave) but no great violence.  The characters are well-rounded, and although the colony bears a striking resemblance to an English seacoast village, the setting worked.  I found myself at the end of the work wishing for more.

9/10

Friday, November 07, 2014

What A PODpeep Reads: We Who Are About To ...

I was recommended to read Joanna Russ's novel We Who Are About To.... I did, and found it very interesting. It is in many ways the opposite of my friend Jeff Duntemann's Drumlin Universe.

Russ's book is quite slim, barely over novella length. In it, a group of eight people (3 men, 5 women, counting a teen-aged girl) are stranded on an unknown planet with extremely limited tools and supplies. Our unnamed female narrator points out, quite accurately, that long-term survival is highly unlikely. Unfortunately, everybody else disagrees, and is busily making plans to colonize said planet early. Considering that they don't even know what season they are in or the length of same, this decision is the height of foolishness.

Our narrator, upon being informed that she needs to get pregnant and which of the males should do the impregnation, decides to head for the hills - literally - she packs up a small amount of supplies and leaves. This proves unacceptable to the others, and a hunting party is dispatched to forcibly bring her back. Due to luck and our narrator's hidden gun, everybody dies except her. More accurately, except for the one guy who has a heart attack, our narrator kills everybody. This is 2/3 of the way into the book, and the last third is spent with the narrator rambling as she starves.

In fairness to Jeff, his Drumlin-ites have a larger population (a thousand, IIRC) and their starship doesn't blow up, among other advantages. Many SF novels, especially of the "Golden Age," treat landing on an alien planet to colonize much the same as arriving in Wyoming circa 1870. What's not seen or portrayed is that there was a huge industrial and technological complex Back East supporting the Wyoming-ite of 1870. This complex made the settlement possible, (not easy but possible) and the lack of said complex in earlier times meant settlement did not happen.

We Who... also has interesting reflections on interpersonal behavior. The survivors are all passengers, and leadership is decided on by the physically biggest man taking over. Our narrator, after dispatching the hunting party sent to get her, then rather cold-bloodedly kills the two other women, neither of whom is a direct threat. Russ, writing in the mid-70s, has bought into the anti-hero theme popular at that time. All in all, a small but interesting book.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

REVIEW: A Crack in Everything

Title: A Crack in Everything
Author: Ruth Frances Long
Genre: fantasy
Price: $8.97 (ebook) / $8.55 (paperback)
Publisher: The O’Brien Press
ISBN:  978-1-84717-635-6
Point of Sale: publisher’s website Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently attended Shamrokon, the 2014 European SF convention, held in Dublin Ireland.  While I was there, Ruth Frances Long held a launch party for her novel A Crack in Everything.  Unfortunately for her, most people attending were just interested in the cupcakes, but she did sell me a copy of her book.  I’ve finished that book and greatly enjoyed it.

Isabel “Izzy” Gregory is a typical Irish teenager, living in Dundrum, a southern suburb of Dublin.  She does have a minor problem with electronics – it’s not infrequent that she touches an electronic device and it explodes – but other than that she’s solidly normal.  Or so she thinks.  While out and about in downtown Dublin, Izzy comes across an angel, a fae, and discovers that there’s a whole other city – Dubh Linn –interweaved into the city that humans see.  Izzy also discovers that some of the stories she was told as a child are real, and other concepts, such as angels being good, are not entirely accurate.

The story then becomes one of Izzy trying to figure out how to survive and use powers she didn’t know she had, while the fae Jinx, a werewolf-like being, has to figure out how to deal with Izzy and the various backroom deals and double-crosses of his world.  I have to admit I had a problem keeping all the various non-humans straight, which I think was in part intentional.

Dublin, the real city, plays a key supporting role in the story, and at several points I found myself digging out my tourist map of the city to see where the events were happening.  Having seen the city and then reading the book greatly improved my overall experience, but I think it would be enjoyable even if you never get to Dublin.

I highly recommend A Crack in Everything.  O’Brien is an Irish publisher, so my best recommendation for US purchasers is to buy direct from the publisher.  It appears to be the only way to get the ebook, while Amazon can get you the paperback.

8/10

Thursday, October 02, 2014

REVIEW: The Queen's Librarian

Title: The Queen's Librarian
Author: Carole Cummings
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $6.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Psyche Skinner

In a feudal fantasy world, Lucas is living a life full of responsibilities.  For his unmarried sisters, his spend thrift mother, his tenants who are facing a poor harvest... but on the up side he has the support of his devastatingly handsome boyfriend Alex and his cousin is the Queen.

Lucas get sucked into a magical mystery full of adventure, flirting, intrgue, humor and cute animals.  I enjoyed the characters, the elements of farce, and the world building.  And then at the end the whole thing suddenly fell flat.

Why?  because I suddenly realized that while no doubt funny, handsome, charming, and overwhelmingly nice, our hero Lucas never really did anything to bring things to a satisfying conclusion--although he certainly took a lot of credit for it. I realized that Mary-Sue-ness of it had been gradually building up and ultimately killed my enjoyment of the story.

6/10 for being full of many other great ingredients.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

REVIEW: Memento Mori

Title: Memento Mori   
Author: Katy O’Dowd
Genre: steampunk
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $11.69 (paperback)
Publisher: Untold Press
ISBN:  978-0692022351
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

The back-cover blurb for this book talks about taking a walk with the Victorian English Mafia.  I have to say, I wish I had read that first, because I found myself wasting sympathy on the death of an English crime lord in Chapter 1.  I eventually caught on, although in fairness to the author, I was supposed to find Mr. Lamb sympathetic. 

Memento Mori is a difficult book to categorize.  I’ve ended up listing it as “steampunk” but even that’s a bit unfair.  There’s nothing in the book that’s not solidly within Victorian technologies.  However, its sensibilities are distinctly non-Victorian, featuring a female Irish assassin, O’Murtagh, working on behalf of a young woman, Carmine Fox.  O’Murtagh is given a list of enemies to kill by Fox, and she goes to work, rather gleefully (and fairly realistically) killing a collection of Victorian stuffed shirts – all affiliated with the Lamb family.  The Lambs prove ill-named, being more wolves than sheep.

Various bloody complications ensue, including a convenient discovery by O’Murtagh, and an extended visit to London’s famous Bedlam mental hospital.  (Your Reviewer recently visited there, as it is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.  Any irony on putting a war museum on the grounds of a lunatic asylum is purely intentional.) 

I found the story and writing well-done, and the characters well-realized.  I did have a bit of an issue – too much of the plot hinges on the idea that when Victorians engaged in mourning, they did not manage their businesses for a year and a day.  Although that may be true, I found that hard to swallow, especially for a crime family that may not be fully “respectable.” 


At any rate, I quite enjoyed Memento Mori.

8/10

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Raygun Chronicles

Title: Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera for a New Age
Editor: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Genre: science fiction / space opera
Price: $29.95 (hardcover) $17.95 (trade paperback) $6.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Every Day Publications
ISBN: 978-0-9881257-5-9
Point of Sale: various retailers via publisher's website
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib


I have to admit, when I was handed a copy of Raygun Chronicles, I was a bit daunted.  At 360 pages, the book would appear to make a fine doorstop.  Usually in such a broad anthology, I only end up finishing half the stories.  Not so with Raygun – I finished and enjoyed every single one!

Raygun Chronicles is the brainchild of Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and is an outgrowth of his now-defunct webzine Raygun Revival.  Basically, the book is a “best of” anthology with a few original stories added.  Since I hadn’t heard of Raygun Revival, everything in the book was new to me, and as I said above, really very good.

In general, what I liked about the stories was the characters.  In the serious stories (the bulk of the book) the characters were realistic and I found myself caring about them.  In the four humorous stories, the characters were just enough “off” to be believable in the context of the story.  Some specific stories that stood out for me:

Frontier ABCs: The Life and times of Charity Smith, Schoolteacher by Seanan McGuire: The lead-off story, this is a Firefly-inspired tale of a schoolteacher one should not trifle with.  It’s set in our Solar System, with the bulk of the action taking place on a terraformed Ganymede.

Rick the Robber Baron by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  This was an interesting story in which the female lead starts by being tied to a wooden post on her own ship.  To make matters worse, the person who did the tying was somebody who had had a fling with our heroine.  It’s complicated, to say the least, but enjoyable.

Sword of Saladin by Michael S. Roberts:  In this tale an enemy tells the captain of the Earth battlecruiser Himalaya that she should have sex with herself.  She thinks that’s a fine idea – on the bridge of his ship!

Holly Defiant by Brenda Cooper:  The titular character is one heck of a singer.  She also appears to be the target of some evil men, and our narrator decides to help.  There are several turns in this tale, none of which I saw coming.

The Slavers of Ruhn by Rob Mancebo:  This is another Firefly-inspired story, in which a woman’s dress proves critical to saving the day.

The Heiress of Air by Allen M. Steele: A rich young woman is kidnapped, and our daring band goes forth to save her.  Again, things are not what they seem.

9/10

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Title: Lex Talionis      
Genre: science fiction / space opera
Price: $6.95 (ebook) / $14.35 (paperback)
Publisher: Dragonwell Publications
ISBN: 978-1940076126
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib


One of the authors I follow, Tobias Buckell, recommended Lex Talionis on his blog.  The author, R. S. A. Garcia, is, like Buckell, from the Caribbean.  In her case, she still lives in the region on the island of Trinidad.  I decided to take Toby’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.  The book opens on a spaceship where a badly wounded man is desperately trying to get to the bridge, and has to avoid the thing that’s killed all of his fellow crewmembers.  We then cut to an alien city where a human merchant discovers another human in the gutter being attacked by a local alien.

The story then races off from there, and becomes a mystery.  The human in the gutter is a woman, a soldier, genetically engineered and suffering from amnesia.  The man on the spaceship reveals his secrets more slowly, but he proves to be less than sympathetic.  The world created by Garcia is less than friendly, and has many problems.  It’s also a place where humans are by no means the top species in the universe.

I have to say I found Lex Talionis an engrossing read.  Figuring out who did what and why was interesting.  I found the characters well-developed and believable.  I did have a bit of a problem with the structure of the novel, in that there were multiple flashbacks and other jumps in time, but I was able to sort out where and when with no real problem.  Highly recommended.


9/10

Monday, June 23, 2014

REVIEW: Girl of Rage

Title: Girl of Rage: Rachel’s Peril         
Author: Charles Sheehan-Miles
Genre: thriller
Price: $4.61 (ebook)
Publisher: Cincinnatus Press
ISBN: B00KAICOJW
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib


I’ve never personally met Charles Sheehan-Miles, but I find that he’s an amazing author.  He first came to my notice with a pair of near-future SF/ thriller titles.  Then he switched gears radically and cranked out a trio of romance novels featuring the Thompson Sisters.  Now, he’s back in thriller territory, with another trilogy of books in which he’s wrapping up the very complicated story of that star-crossed family.

Girl of Rage is the middle book of this trilogy.  The book features Andrea Thompson, who at age 16 has now twice been the target of professional assassins.  To say she’s having a rough few weeks is perhaps an understatement.  One would think that the daughter of the soon-to-be Secretary of Defense wouldn’t be having these kind of issues.  One would be wrong.

Of course, Andrea is discovering that much of what she thought she knew about her family is dead wrong, including who her real father is.  Apparently something about that fact is worth trying to very publicly kill her over.  Also in peril is her mother Adelina, who we discover married Mister Thompson in Spain at the age of 16.  Adelina is in California, dodging one assassin, while Andrea and her ex-soldier brother-in-law are dodging others in Washington DC.  Also involved are not one but two princes, Saudi and British. 

The story is fast-paced, although both action and characters are kept believable.  Girl of Rage is a middle book in a trilogy, and so both relies on the previous book and ends at a cliff.  But since they’re ebooks and priced right, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the latest from Charles Sheehan-Miles, America’s most criminally neglected author.


9/10

Thursday, June 12, 2014

REVIEW: Hibernation

Title: Hibernation
Author: Ron J Suresha (ed)
Genre: Poetry
Price: $8.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Bear Bones Books
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

The concept of the “bear”--the hairy fleshy man especially as desired within the queer subculture of the same name—contains much that could inspire a poet. This collection exploits that potential ably. Not every book can open my eyes to the erotic possibilities of hobbits. Not to mention jocks, cowboys, furries, statues, warriors, and gods (especially the ancient Greek variety). There are all kinds of aesthetics and all kinds of messages about things like sex, love, beauty, getting old and--of course--daddies (literal and metaphorical). I did miss poems mining some of the more arcane possibilities of shape shifting in other cultures (pig, bear, wolf, salmon even) and the actual habits of the real bears—but overall this is a very diverse anthology. There are a lot of interesting insections in these works that mash contrasts together like sexy and seedy or like exquisite technique is dressed up in “aw shucks” crass and macho language.

High points for me were points that stray a little from the central tropes of the theme or found a new angle on it (there being only so many references to beers, beard burn, caves, and flannel shirts that one can take). Like Alfred C Corn’s “Young Soldier” (”out from an overhang of black eyebrows / the left one playing the rĂ´le of circumflex”), Ed Madden’s “Each arrow is a story. Each wound is a mouth,” and Cornelius’s “Marriot Hotel Bar” in its entirety which reminds me of the poetry of MS Merwin although the similarity is not a literal one. And the uneasy simplicity of Dan Stone’s “Rough” is certainly memorable.

On the down side, the tone waivers between classically poetic and wry through a kind of camp that does not always seem deliberate. It can be a fine line between ardent archetype and unintentional parody. And if you are going to riff on a poem by Marlowe, I really don’t think you should change the meter. And there were some grammatical and editing choices whose purpose (or error) I debated. Erratic capitalization that seem to lack symbolic purpose and spellings like “OK”  and “t-shirt”. I suppose one should not question these things, but I do when they don’t seem to have stylistic purpose. There were also a few poems I considered completed clunkers from beginning to end. Let’s just say it takes a lot to sell me on rhyming couplets even when used ironically.

 Overall this is a various and interesting collection but perhaps a tad overlong because it is hard for a collection of so many parts to have an overall identity. However given the number of poems included the average quality is impressively high and undoubtedly the equal of any University-Press-blessed volume. This is an anthology that takes the reader to some interesting places whether your are already a fan or just "bear curious".

8.5/10

Saturday, May 31, 2014

REVIEW: Zero Sum Game

Title: Zero Sum Game
Author: S. L. Huang
Genre: science fiction, thriller
Price: $4.99 (ebook)
Publisher: SL Huang
ISBN: B00JASCU3I
Point of SaleAmazon B & N / Kobo
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

SL Huang works in the entertainment industry in Hollywood and has a degree in mathematics from MIT.  This unusual mix leads to a really stunning first novel.  Zero Sum Game stars Cas Russell, a math whiz turned mercenary.  Cas uses her math skills to dodge bullets, out-leverage tough guy and general kick ass.  Unfortunately for Cas, her skills bring her to the attention of an organization called Pithias. Even more unfortunate is that somebody appears to have a way to control Cas’ mind.

Zero Sum Game is a fast-paced action mystery, in which a surprisingly likable math whiz tries to get a handle on some exceptionally weird goings on in modern-day Los Angeles.  Informed by S. L. Huang’s long residency in the city, the action feels reasonably realistic.  Huang’s characters are not your average people, yet they are well-rounded, even (perhaps especially) the evil ones.  There are no mustachio-twirling villains here. 

This novel is a classic thriller – the stakes are no less than humanity itself.  I purchased Zero Sum based on a review at Heroines of Fantasy and I’m pleased with my decision.  The novel ends fairly, although we’re promised a thriller Half Life in 2015.  I for one enjoyed Zero Sum and am looking forward to Half Life.


9/10

Friday, May 16, 2014

Authors Alliance

The first I heard of the Authors Alliance was the rather bitchy warning posted about them by the Authors Guild. I know very little about either group but as a former academic I don't appreciate being squished under that very broad brush they are using to attack TJ Stiles (whoever that is).

My overall impression is that I should probably give both groups a wide berth.  But if anyone out these is more familiar with just WTF this is all about--please share.

See also:

Monday, April 21, 2014

REVIEW: Invisible

Title: Invisible
Genre: writing commentary
Price: $2.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
ISBN:  B00JND5RBW
Point of Sale: Amazon / B & N / Smashwords
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

A few months back, Alex Dally MacFarlane wrote an article suggesting that science fiction writers might want to include more than just Straight White Males in their stories.  What should have been as controversial as “you should bathe regularly” created an amazing swirl of controversy on the Internet.  Invisible is a response to that controversy.

Blogger, author and (full disclosure) personal friend Jim C. Hines is a Mark 1 Straight White Male.  However, he offered his blog to various people who wrote moving essays about being other than Straight White Male, and what it meant to them to read (or not read) of people who were more like them.  Jim then collected 13 of those essays into this slim ebook.

The essays are all exceptionally well-written, and speak powerfully to the experience of being Other, as well as the help one can get by reading the right book at the right age.  Writers varied from an albino (have you ever seen a not-evil albino in fiction) to people of various genders, orientations and races.

As an author, I want to entertain people.  I want to affect them in some positive way.  Reading the essays in Invisible helped me better understand how to do that.  As a businessman, (and all writers should be people of business) Invisible pointed out that non-Straight White Males have money and are interested in science fiction.  Providing them characters they can identify with can be profitable.  As an artist who happens to be a Straight White Male, part of being a good artist is an ability to populate your book with other than clones of yourself.  Invisible gave me some thoughts on how to do just that.

If you want to be a writer, you should do yourself a favor and read Invisible.


9/10

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Author Solutions Lawsuit Brewing?

Foter / CC BY-SA 3.0
A surprising number of publishing companies have set up one of the vanity publisher that charge hundred or thousands of dollars for self-publishing packages.  These seem to be seen a profit centers for publishers, but they should also--perhaps--be seen as huge sources of liability.

Take for example the class action lawsuit that may be brewing against Penguin's Author Solutions. The argument being that the services that Author Solutions various faces (iUniverse, Xlibris etc) are deceptive and often massively overprices given their real value.

The lawyers, Giskan Solotaroff Anderson and Stewart LLP, seem to be signally a certain confidence in that they are taking clients on a contingency basis--so they are paid from any settlement they reach not via an upfront fee.

So... could this be the beginning of the end for the dark side of the self-publishing spectrum?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What a POD Peep Reads: Edison's Conquest of Mars

In looking for something else, I discovered there was a sequel to H. G. Well's book War of the Worlds! Well, kinda.

Back in 1898, when War of the Worlds came out, international copyright law was much like the Pirate's Code - more guidelines, really, than law. So, when War came out, various people rewrote it to their own liking, setting it wherever they felt it would be convenient. One of those (highly unauthorized) rewrites was Fighters from Mars, set in and around Boston.

This was such a commercial success that an American astronomer, Garrett P. Serviss, was engaged to write a sequel. The result was Edison's Conquest of Mars. (You can read it here for free or buy a dead-tree book here.)  The plot is that Thomas Edison, working on behalf of then-current world leaders, reverse engineers the Martian tech and leads a fleet, first to the Moon and then to Mars.

Herewith are some comments:

1) They wrote shorter in those days - the book is around 65,000 words - but they didn't skimp on story. This was accomplished in part by cutting out description. The Martian Emperor's palace is only described as "ornate in the Martian style." The only named character described is the human slavegirl Aina, and we're just told that she's "lovely." 

2) Serviss, the author, expropriates a number of famous scientists of his day. Edison, the protagonist and a man in nearly every scene, is used with permission. The rest, not so much.

3) It is a novel of its time. As Jo Walton said of another book, it was "written before women were invented." Queens and princesses are mentioned, but the only speaking part is that of the slavegirl, and when she goes on a raid with the men, she's "of course not in a combatant capacity." Also, all the foreign heads of state speak perfect English except the Chinese emperor - and he's the only one not to ride in Edison's electric airship.

Having said all of that, Edison's Conquest of Mars is a rip-roaring adventure, and quite entertaining. It's also clearly the precursor to Burrough's Barsoom series, among others.  In it's day, Conquest was a very popular book, and inspired a lot of people, including one Robert Goddard.

Monday, April 14, 2014

REVIEW: Non-Compliance: The Sector

Title: Non-Compliance
Author: Paige Daniels
Genre: SF
Price: $4.99 (ebook) $12.99 (paperback)
Publisher: Kristell Ink
ISBN: 978-1909845039
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Today’s victim book is Non-Compliance: The Sector by Paige Daniels.  It’s the first of a two-book series starring Shea Kelly.  The book is set in an America that rather narrowly won a war with undefined enemies.  The price of winning was that all Americans have to get government-issued chips implanted in them, which act like aircraft transponders.  Those that don’t are “non-compliant” and have to live in special sectors AKA ghettos set aside for them.  As suggested by the title, Shea Kelly is non-compliant.

She’s also a physically tough cookie and a computer geek, although not as good a geek as Wynne, her part-time stripper buddy.  The two of them are running a side gig to smuggle in good supplies to the sector, which brings them to the attention of the local criminal mastermind, the Boss, and his criminal rival, Danny Rose.  Problems ensue.

Although it seems like there’s a glut of dystopias on the SF market nowadays, I have to say I found Daniels’ take on a future America scared of its own shadow a tad too close to reality to dismiss.  We are, after all, living in a world in which we asked the NSA to please spy on us.  The idea of identity chips implanted for our own good seems possible.

Having found the world believable, I found Shea a realistic narrator.  Yes she’s tough, but she still also calls her dad (outside the Sector) at least every week.  She’s also not superhuman tough, and so occasionally loses a fight.  The other characters rang true, although hard-bitten, as one would expect of exiles.


Hard-bitten is pretty much the definition of much of the story, but Daniels also weaves in a budding romance between Shea and Quinn, the Boss’s main man.  The only thing I found disappointing in the book was the ending, which I felt was a dues ex machina.  Other than that minor issue, I enjoyed Non-Compliance: The Sector.

7/10

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

REVIEW: The Red: First Light

Title: The Red: First Light
Author: Linda Nagata
Genre: science fiction
Price: $6.99 (ebook) / $14 (paperback)
Publisher: Mythic Island Press
ISBN:  B00IJPHJV6
Point of Sale: Amazon / Authors site (includes other venues)
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

According to Lieutenant James Shelley, USA, “there needs to be a war going on somewhere.”  Lt. Shelley is the main character in Linda Nagata’s Nebula-nominated novel The Red: First Light, and he leads a squad of electronically-linked soldiers fighting a brush war in Africa.  The war was started by DCs – defense contractors – in order to keep profits up, and since money isn’t worth dying for, Shelley’s chief goal is to keep his troops alive.

Unfortunately, war is inherently unpredictable, even to somebody with a flawless sense of imminent danger – as if God was whispering in his ear.  After the low-grade brush war Shelley is fighting gets hotter, his girlfriend suspects that “God” is really a machine – an AI loose in the Cloud of the Internet.  Alas, so does one of America’s “dragons” – the rich owner of a DC who has bought the Federal government.

In short, Lt. Shelley’s life is complicated and getting more so.  The Red: First Light is a roller-coaster ride from crisis to crisis, and Linda Nagata is our expert coaster operator.   One does not get on the Nebula short ballot by writing bad books, and as the first-ever self-published book in the final running The Red is far from bad. 

One of the problems in writing action fiction is making interesting and believable characters.  Nagata has made that problem look easy.  She’s also painted an all-too-realistic picture of a scary near-future world in which wealth controls governments and individuals.  In addition to all of that, Nagata takes on the problem of epistemic closure.  This is the concept that, because of the Internet, we all can talk and listen to only people who agree with us, leading us to think that we are a majority. 

In short, The Red: First Light is both a novel of action and ideas, and a worthy edition to anybody’s bookshelf.  Highly recommended.


9/10

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Seeking Children's Literature Reviewer

POD people does not currently have a reviewer for literature aimed at children, however we continue to receive many submissions in this area.  So if anyone would be interested in providing reviews in this area, please email me at veinglory at gmail.com.

Monday, February 24, 2014

REVIEW: Three Days of Night

Title: Three Days of Night
Author: Wren Roberts
Genre: science fiction (novella)
Price: $2.99
Publisher: KYSO Books
ISBN:  B00IJPHJV6
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

First, full disclosure:  Wren Roberts is a member of my writers group.  Having said that, if I didn’t like her novella Three Days of Night, I wouldn’t be writing a review of it. 

The novella is set on the world of Nibiru, which orbits the double star Sotiras and Oligos.  The world spins much slower than ours, resulting in a night that’s 72 hours long.  Unfortunately for Farina, our teenage girl narrator, the Anunnaki have taken over on Nibiru.  They are human, and bear more than a passing resemblance to our modern-day Taliban.  Farina, as a girl and not Anunnaki, is doubly vexed by the Anunnaki.  One of that religion’s tenants is that women can’t be out after sundown.

Farina, of the first generation born of Nibiru, dreams of fleeing her oppressive existence and going to Earth.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Anunnaki are not letting women leave, so Farina has to attempt to sneak out.  At the end of the first day of night, Farina makes her break.  Things don’t go to plan, in part due to surprising betrayals. 

I found the story very gripping emotionally.  I am not a fan of the Taliban, and the Anunnaki are entirely too Taliban-ish for me to like, but they are also not cartoon villains.  I found Farina very realistic.  She’s a teenager in action and words.  Her circumstances are forcing her to grow up, but perhaps she’s not making the transition fast enough.


I found the ending unexpected and ambiguous.  I am frankly not clear if what being described is real or a hallucination.  To a certain extent, this confusion is an artifact of the first-person narration, but to a certain extent it’s a deliberate choice on Wren’s part.  All I can say is that the ending worked for me.  Well, actually the whole piece worked for me, and I highly recommend it.

9/10

Friday, February 21, 2014

REVIEW: The Promotion by Gabriel Beyers

Title: The Promotion (A Short Story)
Author: Gabriel Beyers
Genre: fantasy
Price: $1.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Gemini Gremlin Ink
ISBN: --
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

This is a generously sized short story at 33 pages. I sort of relaxed as soon as I began reading.  There is an immediate quality to good writing that says: just relax and enjoy the journey. And Beyers' writing has that quality.

The immediate story is a rather dark tale of someone who goes about a rather unpleasant join in a very matter-of-fact way. However as the story unfolds there is a subtle but unmistakable element of heart and humor that gives what could be a clever but shallow story an extra dimension.

If this short story is meant to wet the reader's palate for the author's longer works: mission accomplished.

8.5/10

Monday, February 17, 2014

REVIEW: My Gun Sleeps Alone

Title: My Gun Sleeps Alone
Author: Martin Clark
Genre: fantasy (novella)
Price: $4.00 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-932207-45-3
Point of Sale: publishers site (includes Amazon, Barnes & Noble links)
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Lucas Helath is a private detective, working the mean streets of Los Angeles in the mid-1950s.  He also has a personal imp, a short gray fellow with a Brooklyn accent who’s been hanging around since Lucas got shot in the head in 1944.  Needless to say, only Lucas can hear or see the imp.  But the imp’s not the only thing weird going down in LA one windy night.  Sarah Schumann’s father has been kidnapped, and the only thing the kidnappers want in return for the old man is a cheap figurine.  Oh, a couple of Haitian loas (voodoo gods) drop by, and Lucas is wanted by the homicide detective team of Harland and Wolff.  Other than that, it’s a quiet night.

So, yeah, My Gun Sleeps Alone is a cross between 1950s noir and urban fantasy.  But much like peanut butter and chocolate, these two elements seem to go well together, at least in the capable hands of Martin Clark.  This is a novella and action-packed, so there’s not a whole lot of character development going on.  But then noir is not known for character development – all the characters start and end in the same ball of sleaze – so in that regard My Gun is par for the course.

The plot is straight-forward action, and has a fairly high body count.  Lucas proves to be more lucky than good, but again that’s typical for the genre.  Overall, I found My Gun Sleeps Alone an entertaining if slight romp.



8/10