Tuesday, June 25, 2013

REVIEW: Drifting Away

Title: Drifting Away
Author: Stefano Costantini
Genre: science fiction
Price: $6.20 (ebook) / $11.24 (paperback)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1484988800
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I am the semi-official resident reviewer of science fiction, and as somebody who’s written two SF novels set on Mars, I confess to just a bit of an interest in Mars.  (I’m not addicted – I can quit any time.  Really.)  So, when Stefano Costantini’s query for a Mars-based novel hit my inbox, I accepted.  Alas, I am underwhelmed with Mr. Costantini’s novel Drifting Away.

From the back-cover blurb, the set-up is that in the late 23rd Century, Mars is an independent republic, yet one in which (at fair inconvenience) they forcibly synchronize their 24.5 hour day to Earth’s 24.0 hour clock.  (This means waking up in the “morning” when it’s full dark outside and going to bed at local sunrise.)  At any rate, the two planets are drifting away, so the Earth Association is attempting to combat this drift by running a youth exchange program.  Yet Martian kids are suddenly dying of measles, and their despondent mothers are killing themselves.  A pair of men decides to investigate.

Executed competently, this could have been an interesting book, and the twist ending could have worked nicely.  It was not executed competently.  Some of this is mechanical.  For example, Costantini doesn’t use quotes to separate dialog, rather dashes.  Speaking of dialog, most of the book’s dialog does not sound like real humans talking to one another; rather it is exposition or declaration.

Speaking of exposition, the first sixteen (albeit brief) chapters are nothing but exposition.  The world exposed therein is somewhat interesting, but still, sixteen (16) (!) chapters of exposition?  Nor does Costantini seem to have a good grasp on the logistics of living on Mars.  On his Mars, one can move from building to building merely by wearing a breathing mask.  On the real Mars, current surface pressure is way too low for that to happen.  Nor has Costantini heard of centrifugal force – his long-haul spaceliners are zero-gee the whole way. 

In short, I was underwhelmed by Drifting Away.


Sunday, June 23, 2013


Title: X
Editor: Matt Thompson
Genre: Mystery
Price: $0.99 (ebook)
Point of Sale: Amazon
 Reviewed by: Psyche

I am a bit surprised that I liked this book.  Objectively speaking the protagonist is a selfish loser.  The writing is full of semi-pretentious quirks like excessive footnotes. But I did; I did like this book. Sometimes it is just something ineffable about a book that does that.  Either that or I suck as reviewing.  One of those things.

There is something about how Cale is written that makes his desperation in dealing with his messed up impulses, his half-hearted marriage, and his one messed-up friendship strangely fascinating. This is certainly not a heart warming tale but it also resists being completely nihilistic.  It was somewhat reminiscent of The Losers by David Eddings, another book I liked even though it doesn't have anything I normally look for in a book. (It could use a touch more copy-editing.)


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kiwi Society of Author Reinvents Square Wheel

Based on the radio interview I just listened to, the New Zealand Society of Authors seems to think they have invented the idea of a 'seal of approval' for self-published books.  (Specifically applying an "objective standard" in terms of quality).The spokesperson suggested forming an independent authors guild (that name, by the way, is already taken) should take over that "traditional gate-keeping service".

I predict that will go as well as it usually does when you:
1) Become a gate-keeper without actually being a publisher who determines quality based on some kind of real world functional standard (e.g. book sell well, book gets awards), and
2) combine collecting membership dues with tell some of those members that their work is not good enough.

Which is to say: badly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

REVIEW: BASH by Mike Bartos

Title: BASH
Editor: Mike Bartos
Genre: Mystery
Price: $0.99 (ebook)
Publisher: XLIBRIS
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Psyche

This book creates an ensemble of characters connected by a psychiatric hospital that is mired in bureaucracy, weighted down by budget cuts and striving just to deliver basic care to their sometimes dangerous criminal patients. The story is constructed so you simply cannot hurry through it. You get to know everyone, for the most part nice, well-meaning, but flawed characters struggling through middle-age, professional crises and the demand for professional and personal duties, with a few villains sprinkled into the mix. I will admit that by halfway through I groaned a little as yet another character got introduced with a multi-page brief biographies of their life up until the point they enter the story. They are all marvelous character, but this is closing in on “too much of a good thing”.

At first I was surprised that the blurb discloses something that doesn’t happen until a third of the way through the book. But in retrospect you kind of need to know where this story is going in order to understand why you are strolling there through the lives of a dozen different people: patients, nurses, doctors, journalists and so on. I would say that having only the doctor in first person does not make sense to me as he first appears well into the story and Ash is much closer to being the protagonist of the piece. So the change in person seems a bit arbitrary, or like authorial intrusion.

While not every part of the book was to my tastes I have to give it 9/10 for sheer, pulled-together storytelling. I would, however, suggest that the cover doesn’t really match the book.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

About Kirkus Indies

I have seen a lot of bitching about Kirkus Indies reviews recently and given that I have a soap box, I am going to stand on it.  Here is what I have seen, and my take on it.

Kirkus is a legit review site that people are impressed by, right?
To some extent: yes.  But when it comes to their fee-charging site Kirkus Indies: no. In most cases all that a review from this site proves is that the author had $425 to waste. There are some exceptions where authors who know how to market took advantage of the perceived prestige of the Kirkus name with certain reading audiences.

Kirlkus indies will always trash your books because their reviewers are from rival publishers.
No.  You may have paid them money, but that was for the review, not what was in it.  The review will be honest, possibly scathingly so, possibly constructed specifically to prevent you from pulling out any positive phrases to use in your marketing efforts. If the reviewer hated your book, they just hated your book.  It happens.

Even trade publisher and best-selling authors pay for their Kirkus Review.
No, the don't.  They go to the main Kirkus site and submit their book many months before publication in the hope of getting a free review that will be placed on the main website, not the Indies online ghetto. This approach to getting a review is free.

Monday, June 10, 2013

REVIEW: For the Night is Dark

Title: For the Night is Dark
Editor: Ross Warren
Genre: Horror
Price: $5.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
ISBN: 0992170729
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

The great strength of this anthology is the way the stories have a strong sense of place and convincing, realistic characters. Across all of the stories it begins to feel like the bogey monster of this day and age is the chav (or whatever your regional term for youths from the ghetto is), or the under-privileged world they are forced to grow up in and the destructive role of abusive parenting. Of particular note: 21 Brooklands by Carole Johnstone which will probably stick in my mind for some time. This Darkness by John Claude Smith is also notable, it feels somewhat like a parable about the redemption that can only be found by hitting bottom.

There were some stories with notably original elements. God May Pity All Weak Hearts by Daniel I. Russel retells the Dr. Crippen murder. On a Midnight Black Chessie by Kevin Lucia finds horror in a very unlikely place. And How the Dark Bleeds by Jasper Bark seems to effortlessly create a whole mythology around the layered story of the protagonist within just a few short pages.

If there is any criticism I would make it is that many of the stories don't quite close conclusively and give a feeling of resolution. Exceptions being the under-stated pathos in the conclusion of the zombie story Darker with the Day by Scott Nicholson and the tightly plotted A Snitch in Time by Robert W Walker.

Overall this collection represents what a good horror anthology should be. A somewhat uneven groups of stories but none that are without merit, misogynist or mindlessly gratuitous--traits that hobble many other publishers in this genre. At the center of almost all of these stories there is a fate that is genuinely horrific if contemplated, and that resonates with the horrors that do or could exist in the real world.