New Book Review 29: SciFan Magazine January 2017

scifanThe next book review I’m doing is a little different than the previous ones. I’m reviewing the January 2017 edition of SciFan Magazine, a monthly digital magazine designed to showcase current and upcoming independent authors. The editor is Richard M. Mulder, whose work I hope to review at a later date. There were thirteen stories/excerpts in the magazine, and I will address each of them here.

The first, ‘Octov’s Rise to Ainoren’ by Dawn Chapman, is an excerpt from the novel The Secret King: Lethao, which I reviewed on this blog here. Chapman’s work is excellently written, with strong detail and description and otherworldly characters who are familiar enough for the reader to empathize, yet whose otherworldly attributes and powers create a sense of wonder while reading.  This particular excerpt is full of action and intrigue, and I liked it.

The second, ‘Séance on Death Row’ by Douglas Kolacki, is a short horror story in which a group of people, including a murderer, hold a séance to speak with the murderer’s victim. It was an older style of horror, relying heavily on implication and imagination, with dread permeating the story and with the horror stemming from forces beyond the grave which may be seen but not fully understood. It reminded me of Edgar Alan Poe’s work. I liked it.

The third, ‘The Tot of Wonder’ by John Taloni, is a much more lighthearted and goofy tale of a superhero father who lives with his non-super wife and his super-powered toddler son.  There’s not a whole lot to it, but I think it’s geared more toward a young audience. It felt a little out of place in this magazine, but as a work for children I suppose it’s fine.

The fourth, ‘Miss Soames’ by Kyle Hemmings, was an odd one. I can’t say much about it without completely spoiling the story, but I didn’t like it very much. The prose was okay, but the plot was kind of nonsensical, a sort of bait-and-switch horror story that was so busy trying to surprise the reader that it forgot to be scary.

The fifth, ‘Orlok’s Song’ by David Castlewitz, was my favorite in the magazine. In this short story, there is a sentient species called the Peet (animal-like beings) who have been driven from their forest homes by human enterprise. Orlok is the father of a family that tries to survive in the new concrete forest of city slums. The writing in it was beautiful, and the story was brief but excellent in its narrative and conclusion. I’d definitely recommend this one.

The sixth, ‘Voices Beneath the Ice’ by Matthew McKiernan, is a sci-fi story with horror elements involving a trio of astronauts who land on Europa (a moon of Jupiter) and begin to find strange reasons to hate each other. I liked the concept a lot, but some of the prose needed work. I think this story has a lot of potential, and could be really great if some more time was given to it.

The seventh in the magazine is an excerpt from the book Secret of the Old Ones by Blaise Corvin. Its genre is given as LitRPG Sci-Fan™, in which the real world and the world of gaming are both important to the narrative. The only issue I have with the excerpt is that the character never seemed to really be in danger, but since it’s just an excerpt of a larger work, I’m sure there will be more conflict and excitement later in the story. I really liked this excerpt, and I’ll probably read the book at some point.

The eight is also an excerpt, titled ‘The Stirring’ by Jaren Fleming. It was something like Christian creationist science fiction, about a planet that serves God (here called The Father) at war with gooey alien beings that serve Satan. The whole excerpt was nothing but combat, and the writing was good, but  I hope there is character development and more fleshing-out of the story in the larger work. I wasn’t a huge fan of the premise, but I can imagine other people liking it quite a lot.

The ninth was ‘Stormguard: The Invisible War’ by Tom Fallwell. It was another case of Christian-themed action sci-fi. I can’t say much about it without spoiling the whole story, but it starts with a man waking up in a crater with no memory of who he is or where he came from. The writing was okay, but I thought the premise was kind of a cliché. This was an excerpt of a larger work as well, but I probably won’t seek out the larger work.

The tenth, ‘Spacejacking’ by Russell Hemmell, seems like it may be an excerpt from a larger work, but it was unclear to me. It’s a futuristic tale of an alien abduction during space exploration, and the subsequent consequences. Again, I can’t say a lot without giving away the entire story, but I liked this one. It had some interesting and unusual ideas in it, and if it is part of a larger work I’d like to see where the story goes.

The eleventh story, ‘The Brat and the Other Country’ by David Perlmutter, was a real oddball. The premise was similar to the film ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’, if that film was a story about superheroes rather than a detective story. In the story, the cartoon characters of Earth actually live on another planet, and the main character is a superhero human who works alongside superhero cartoon characters. I can imagine other people really loving the premise, but it was just a bit too much of a stretch for me.

The twelfth story, ‘In the Hot Mists’ by John A. Frochio, is a steampunk tale about an airship race in which one airship has an unfair advantage because it’s crewed by extraterrestrials. Strange as this premise is, I liked it. The writing was good, it put a new spin on a familiar story, and I think lots of other people would enjoy the story too.

The last story (good job for sticking with me this long!) is ‘The Keystone Islands: Portals of the Grave’ by Lander Allen. It’s the first three chapters of a larger work, a soft sci-fi work set in a universe where Earth is a cultural center resented by the other planets. The tetrapath infection turning its victims into horrific monsters, and the protagonists have come from who-knows-where and are trying to figure out their past in the midst of this plague. It’s well-written and very intriguing, and I’d like to see where the story goes.

So, those are the thirteen stories from the January 2017 edition. I expect to review later editions of the magazine in this blog as well, as it seems like a great way to see at a glance what’s going on in the indie fantasy and sci-fi community.

Now, once again, my bit of promo. If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.


New Book Review 28: The Breath of Aoles

aoles-coverThe next book I’m reviewing in Alan Spade’s The Breath of Aoles, the first book in the Ardalia trilogy. The genre is fantasy, although the other books of the trilogy may expand the world and events to something more like epic or high fantasy. It takes place in a fantasy world of impressive ambition. Most fantasy authors use real-world fauna and flora interspersed with more fantastic and mythological creatures, but in this book every plant and animal was an invention of the author. There was none of the humans and dwarves and elves that we often in fantasy either. The (((SPOILERS IN THIS AND THE NEXT PARAGRAPH)))main character is of a four-fingered three-nostriled species called hevelens, which share their world (which has two moons) with the rock-like krongos race and the telephathic malians.

Our protagonist, Pelmen, is a teenage hevelen who lives a miserable life in the city of Durepeaux, working in his demanding and controlling father’s tannery. When Pelmen runs away, a misadventure with fire-casting sorcerers called crimson shamans brings him back to his city him to live with his bitter old uncle Xuven while attempting to learn the art of hunting. When Pelmen’s friend Teleg disappears under similar circumstances, Pelmen and Xuven assume that he has been kidnapped by crimson shamans as Pelmen nearly was, and they set off on a mission to rescue him. The mission takes them through a variety of places and adventures before they finally reach their destination: a fortress on a volcano, the center of operations for the sinister crimson shamans. (((END SPOILERS)))

If you take this story and you strip away the unique creatures and terrains, it’s a fairly standard journey narrative. We’ve seen protagonists grow and learn over the course of a long journey in hundreds of stories before. Frodo and Samwise do it, Abraham and Sarah do it, Sal Paradise and Dead Moriarty do it, Lolita and Humbert Humbert [*shiver*] do it, it’s very a common theme. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This type of story is popular because it works, as long as it’s written well. This particular book is written well. The mystery and danger of the quest keeps the reader engaged, and the flashiness of the fantastical world keeps the reader interested. It’s a good fantasy novel, unlikely to convert non-fans of the genre but certainly enjoyable for the established devoted.

I do have to remark that the book is slow. There are a handful of exciting bits in the journey, but there is also an awful lot of walking and talking. The author’s creation of unique animals and plants for this book’s world is ambitious, but frequently it was also confusing. When the characters are interacting with their nidepoux and melepeks, their beasts of burden, I don’t know what to visualize. Occasionally descriptions of them would cut off the natural flow of a paragraph, and even with the description I still feel more lost than I would if the characters just uses horses and oxen. There was also a brief romantic arc to the story which seemed, to me at least, out of place. I didn’t think it contributed to the narrative much and overall it didn’t seem very credible. Readers can of course form their own judgments on that.

Overall, I was glad to have read it. I think the novel is a worthwhile contribution to the genre, and the ending left me with enough curiosity that I will probably get the next book in the trilogy (titled Turquoise Water) to see where the adventure goes next.

Now, once again, my bit of promo. If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.


New Book Review 27: Atomic Underworld: Part Two

atomic-underworld-2-coverThe twenty-seventh book I’m reviewing here is Atomic Underworld: Volume Two, by Jack Conner. This book is the sequel to one I reviewed a few months ago, Atomic Underworld: Part One. That review may be read here. Within the same world this author also has the Atomic Sea series and the books Nightmare City and City of Shadows.

A quick recap of the setting: the story takes place in and around the subterranean city of Muscud, which sits over the highly toxic Atomic Sea. In this alternate world technology has developed in a steampunk-like direction, and humans share the city with various pre-human alien species and with humans afflicted by the mutating effects of the sea. Rival gangs hold the most power in the city, but power also belongs to the cultists who worship various otherworldly gods. In the last book, our hero Tavlin “Two-Bit” Metzler, a gambler and thief and all-around rogue, was captured by cultists and brought to the temple of their god, Magoth. This second part to the story begins with Tavlin’s captivity and brainwashing in their temple. Other characters working with and against Tavlin include his ex-wife Sofia, friend and brutal mob boss Vassas, rival mob boss and cultist Havictus, the cult leader known only as the Lady, and a ghostly woman of ambiguous allegiance named Millicent.

As noted in the review of the previous book, the strongest feature of these books (probably of all Conner’s work) is the detail. The stinking, toxic, moist underworld that he paints feels stinky and toxic and moist. The description is vivid and graphic, and I really appreciated that. The characters are in some ways a little cookie-cutter (Boss Vassas is every cigar-chomping mob boss ever, Tavlin is right out of the Han Solo/Jack Sparrow/Malcolm Reynolds school for likable outlaws, all of the gangsters are noir characters with superficial mutations), but they’re fun anyway. Now, as I said, I read the previous book a few months ago, so I generally remembered who the characters are, good guys and bad guys and whatnot, but I couldn’t really remember which slimy jiggly pre-human alien race was which, and the sequel didn’t really take any time to recap those details. The story goes straight forward where the last book ended, with no recaps at all. For this reason, I wonder why the two books are in separate volumes at all. I’m aware that the author also released an Omnibus Edition with both books included, but why not just have them together as one novel? I can guess, but I prefer not to be cynical and to instead hope that the reason was creative.

For anyone who wishes to read these stories, the genre needs to be well understood. These are pulpy action stories. They take some inspiration from the horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft, but they are not horror. The purpose of these stories is to entertain, and in that capacity they deliver. A small advisory warning: the book contains a lot of graphic violence, some references to rape, and one descriptive sex scene. Some more sensitive readers might be put off by these features, though I personally was not. I found both of these books fully entertaining, and I expect if I read other work by this author I will encounter the same. The conclusion especially, the climactic fight scene that resolved the story, was especially satisfying. Fans of action and crime stories, dark fantasy, and horror/pulp fiction are the recommended audience for these books. As a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I loved them.

Now, once again, my bit of promo. If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

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New Book Review 26: The Final Warden

the-final-warden-coverFor my twenty-fifth book review in this blog and first book review of 2017, I’m reviewing The Final Warden, the first book in the epic fantasy series ‘Gifts of Vorallon’ by Thomas Cardin. The world in this book is close to something out of J.R.R. Tolkien or R.A. Salvatore, with humans living in alliance with elves and dwarves while threats to their world manifest in the forms of ogres, trolls, and demons. It’s a familiar epic/high fantasy type of world, but it was well executed here.

The protagonist of the novel is Lorace, a young man who awakes one day with ritualistic scars on his body and no memory of where he’s come from. In this world many people have a particular ‘gift’, which could just as easily be called a ‘power’ or ‘ability’. As the story progresses Lorace discovers his own gift, which he calls ‘sight’, the power to see within his mind places far from his location. In the context of the fictional world these gifts are said to be given by various gods, worshipped by the humans, dwarves, and elves together. Lorace is in possession of a mystical artifact called the godstone, sacred to the gods (naturally). With the aid of humans from the city of Halversome and dwarves from the city of Vlaske K’Brak, Lorace works to recover his memory and discover why it was lost. Along the way he becomes drawn into a war between the peoples of this world and demons from the realm of Nefryt, whose ravages threaten to destroy the world city by city.

The strongest aspect of this story is the quality of its worldbuilding. Within the first few pages, the amount of detail and complexity to the setting blew me away. The details of the world came out naturally, through character interactions and through comfortably brief narrator’s exposition. I was impressed with it, and I hope that I can come close to doing as well in my own work.  The plot was at some points plodding and it took some time to get set up to certain key events, but I wouldn’t say I was bored with it. The book is relatively short, just over 200 pages, so for me it was a quick read overall.

There were several typos throughout the book, such as using “–ing” when “–ed” is meant and misusing apostrophes frequently. Given the overall quality of the rest of the story, this was strange to me. Apart from that, the story ends on something of a cliffhanger. Lorace’s main story arc is completed, but the arc of another character, a demonic entity called the Devourer, is left unresolved. This book is the first of three, so I may well get the next in the series to see what becomes of the Devourer. Cliffhangers are an annoyance to many readers, but the fact that the main arc of the story was resolved satisfied me in this regard.

The last comment I want to make on this book is that it fits one fantasy category that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately: Noblebright. The opposite of GrimDark fantasy, Noblebright is generally positive and optimistic. Heroes are heroic and villains are defeatable. This may make for more predictable storytelling, but it also provides some comfort for many readers who’ve felt lost with the recent trend that’s been popularized by ‘A Game of Thrones’ and its imitators. Fans of Noblebright fantasy and fans of more tradition epic fantasy will enjoy this book, and I’m pleased to say that I did.

Now, once again, my bit of promo. If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

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