Book Review: War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak, eds. (2014)

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Buy it for “War Dog.” (Seriously!)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

War Stories is pretty hefty military SF anthology that boasts a wonderfully diverse group of authors, including veterans and active duty military personnel. The twenty-three stories in this timely collection tackle contemporary issues (drones and robotization of war; privacy rights; colonialism; PTSD) with an eye to the future. The result is a rather imaginative glimpse into the future of warfare, and the impact these changes (and sometimes, lack thereof) have on all those involved: soldiers, civilians, robots, clones, and, yes, even aliens.

As is usually the case with anthologies, the stories were rather hit and miss for me. Michael Barretta’s “War Dog” is easily my favorite of the bunch. It’s difficult to boil this masterpiece down into a pithy little sound bite, but let’s just say that it’s not what I expected. In the future Christian States of America, some veterans are welcomed back into the fold (assuming they’re not atheists, heathens, or homosexuals), while others – those having undergone more extreme genetic modifications – are put down like the dogs they’re widely assumed to be. “War Dog” is a weird, bittersweet, ill-fated romance between two veterans on different sides of the human/animal divide. It’s lovely and heartfelt and will hit you right in the feels. (Trigger warning for rape.)

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Book Review: And They Lived: A Short Story Anthology Sabrina Zbasnik (2014)

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Love the Feminist Fairy Tale Retellings!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review though Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, minor spoiler alert for the story summaries below. I tried not to include any major reveals, but if you’d rather approach this anthology with fresh eyes, skip the play-by-plays.)

The description for And They Lived – a collection of nine short stories by Sabrina Zbasnik – sucked me in immediately: “And They Lived isn’t just a dark turn and modernization of the fairy tales. It gives power back to the powerless in the classic stories. Women are no longer the victims and their story doesn’t end with true love’s kiss.” Feminist retellings of fairy tale classics? Sign me up!

While the book’s synopsis says that there are eight stories included here, the review copy I received from the author actually contains nine tales:

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Book Review: Forgotten Tigers and Other Stories, Annie Bellet (2014)

Monday, July 7th, 2014

For the Light-Bringers and Mist Dwellers

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaway program.)

Lightbringing tigers and ghost lions. Serpent-boys and magic-sniffing rats. Disembodied alien consciousnesses and genocidal spider aliens. Annie Bellet’s imagination is populated by all manner of strange and exotic creatures – many of them dangerous, others surprisingly not so; in Forgotten Tigers and Other Stories, she conjures them forth, breathing life into each before letting them skitter across the pages and into her audience’s imaginations.

An eclectic mix of science fiction, fantasy, and dystopias (occasionally all at once), Forgotten Tigers is comprised of ten short stories: seven of them brand-new, three previously published. (Though this is my first time reading each one.)

Forgotten Tigers – Easie unexpectedly stumbles upon an alien scout while scavenging in the dumpsters behind the Dupigny Technical College. When it tosses him aside like just another piece of garbage, something in Easie snaps – and he fires the opening shot in what might be a intergalactic incident.

The Crimson Rice Job – Imagine a nutritionally superior rice that’s so easy to grow that a gentleman farmer would be hard-pressed to kill it with neglect. Now imagine that all the patents are held by mega-corps whose bottom lines could only be hurt by a self-perpetuating rice seed. How far would you go to get this much-needed crop into the hands of small farmers in countries racked by poverty and hunger?

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Book Review: Snow and Shadow, Dorothy Tse (2014)

Friday, June 13th, 2014

“This palace is a depraved place.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

Dorothy Tse’s Snow and Shadow is like nothing you’ve ever read. Fantastical, surreal, and full of unexpected gore, the stories found within these pages are as odd as they are beautifully written. While some of the pieces start off with both feet seemingly planted firmly in this world (“in a vein of apparently innocent realism,” to quote translator Nicky Harman) before veering off into another, dreamlike dimension, others flaunt their peculiarities from the opening sentences. As if the unusual and absurd plots aren’t enough, Tse creates further distance by giving the stories’ protagonists impersonal names: some are just “the boy” or “the girl,” while others are named after objects (“Leaf” and “Knife”) or simply referred to by letters (“J,” “K,” and “Q” are especially popular choices). While some of the pieces are a little out there for my taste, there’s no denying that Tse is a gifted and masterful storyteller.

The collection is comprised of thirteen stories:

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Book Review: Spring Fevers, Matt Sinclair, ed. (2012)

Monday, June 9th, 2014

A Solid Collection

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for discussions of rape.)

One in a series of seasonally-themed short fiction anthologies, the stories found in Spring Fevers revolve around the idea of spring: “Spring is the time of new beginnings, new life, new love. And fevers can result in pain, unexpected visions, and an appreciation for health and normalcy.” Relationships take center stage: from the shy first bloom of new love, with all the exciting possibilities it entails, to love long since withered, left for dead, and buried. Relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, ideas and their creators, the government and the governed, the oppressed and their oppressors; the stories run the gamut, and span multiple genres: fantasy, supernatural, science fiction, historical fiction, contemporary fiction.

Spring Fevers first caught my attention because it includes a contribution by Mindy McGinnis. I absolutely adore her debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink, and hoped that “First Kiss” would help to tide me over until the release of In a Handful of Dust this fall. A supernatural rape revenge story, “First Kiss” is by far my favorite: creepy, unexpected, and very satisfying. At the current going price of zero dollars, you should check out Spring Fevers for this one alone.

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Cowspiracy & Circles of Compassion: Two New Indiegogo Campaigns Need Your Support!

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Two new Indiegogo campaigns recently caught my eye: Cowspiracy, a feature length documentary which examines the environmental movements’ unwillingness to talk about the v-word; and Circles of Compassion, an anthology of essays “on the connections between human, animal, and environmental well-being.” They both sound pretty rad, and you know what they say about sharing!

First up: Cowspiracy. I don’t usually go out of my way to watch animals rights/welfare documentaries – I can watch a zombie get its head bashed in 102 different ways, but am entirely too sensitive for even the tamest of feedlot footage – but am really looking forward to this one!

 

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Book Review: Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred, Anthony R. Mills, ed. (2013)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

“Oh…my…Goddess!” (In which an “angry atheist” is pleasantly surprised by a religious journey through the Whedonverse.)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

As a Joss Whedon fan and a fellow self-described “angry atheist,” I approached Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred with some trepidation. Specifically, I was worried that the authors who contributed to this anthology – many of them theologians – might be dismissive of or downright hostile to Whedon’s beliefs. Happily, this isn’t the case. After all, many (if not all) of them are fellow Whedon fans, even if they don’t share in his atheism. While some authors are critical of certain aspects of Whedon’s work, I suspect that this primarily comes from a place of love: it’s those you respect most who have the greatest potential to let you down.

As with any anthology, Joss Whedon and Religion is a bit of a mixed bag, with all of the pieces trending toward “adequate” to “excellent.” Some authors are heavier on the academic jargon than others; overall, I found most of the contributions to be fairly readable. (Some of the heavier stuff is tempered by more enjoyable, in-depth discussions of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dollhouse. Warning: you will want to revisit your favorite shows by book’s end!) Occasionally, I had to take a breather to further research a specific topic, usually religious in nature; those who have a better background in religion (specifically Judeo-Christian) will no doubt have an easier time of it.

Due to the religious iconography prominently displayed on the cover (which is consistent with the Catholic imagery common to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), I anticipated a largely Christian perspective. While I can’t comment on the authors’ personal religious convictions, I’m happy to report that they address a variety of religions and ethical systems, both mainstream and not: Wicca and witchcraft; ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses; the philosophies of Aristotle and Kant; even Ayn Rand gets a chapter (alongside Stan Lee, natch). A few essays don’t really seem to pay much mind to religion at all.

(In an especially amusing aside, Dean Kowalski gently pokes fun at K. Dale Koontz – who penned the forward – for reading too much religion into Whedon’s work, a criticism one could perhaps level at many of the contributors to this volume. See page 105.)

Of course, Christianity does receive the lion’s share of attention.

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Book Review: The Ink Slingers Guild Presents Into the Abyss (2013)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

“Do you sparkle?”

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

A group of writers who come together for “support, inspiration and the occasional kick in the arse,” the Ink Slingers Guild has published two anthologies of its members’ work to date. Into the Abyss features ten essays (and one poem) based on one of the writing exercises performed at every ISG meeting. The authors were given three words – gravity, innocuous, and perilous – and directed to create a story that touches upon each concept. The result is an eclectic mix of noir (“The Scarab”), fantasy (“The Scarab,” “Sending Sally Home,” “The Heart of Ballion,” “Beginnings”), science fiction (“The Room,” “Revelation”), supernatural horror (“Jimmy,” “Complications,” “Rain”) and young adult fiction (“Jimmy”).

The Scarab – 1929, England. A PI discovers a strange, beetle-shaped amulet that transports him to ancient Egypt – and helps him unlock his destiny.

Sending Sally Home – A sweet fantasy romance in which a young woman, mistaken for a distant royal relative, is transported to another world where she falls in love with the wizard tasked with keeping vigil for her. From the title to the whimsical setting, the tale has a vaguely Whovian feel to it.

The Heart of Ballion – Ballion is a world created by men, not gods, as a safe haven for refugees. Forced to flee their own worlds by the genocidal Overlord, people from the worlds over are welcomed to Ballion by the Sorcerers, who open the Border at the direction of the Tower. But Ballion is also under attack: the Blackfire Riders have found a way in and are systemically destroying the Keystones, the heart of Ballion. Sorcerers Thryn and Aliell must transform Ballion in order to save it.

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Book Review: The Carvings Collection, Drake Vaughn (2013)

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A Mixed Bag of Horror Stories

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation. Also, trigger warning for rape and animal abuse.)

The Carvings Collection contains ten horror stories from the “crinkled mind” of Drake Vaughn. The stories range from conceivably true crime (fundamentalists do the darnedest things!) to the supernatural/fantastical (vampires, werewolves, and giant cockroaches, oh my!) and “psychological tales of imagination gone wrong.”

Dolls – A young girl’s menagerie of dolls begins to act out scenes of abuse on each other – and on Ella, their owner. In this story, it’s the adults who are the real monsters.

Driver’s Seat – A woman dealing with apparent PTSD in the wake of a carjacking/murder spree reconnects with her husband through violence. (Or regains control by embracing her darker impulses? I don’t know, I was both confused and somewhat disturbed by this point.)

Master Key – A quartet of teens find more than they bargained for when they cut class to light up and happen upon the nether regions of their high school, which was built on the ruins of a (supposedly!) abandoned paper mill.

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Book Review: L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 29, Dave Wolverton, ed. (2013)

Monday, August 26th, 2013

A thoroughly enjoyable collection of contemporary science fiction!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest – now entering its thirtieth year, it’s one of the longest-running short story contests still in existence – attracts thousands of submissions a year. From this, a panel of judges selects just thirteen essays for publication in the annual anthology. Also included are thirteen illustrations similarly culled from the Illustrators of the Future contest, along with three instructional essays on the art of crafting and selling science fiction, written by professionals in the field. (This year’s collection includes one piece by contest founder L. Ron Hubbard himself.)

As suggested by such stiff competition, the essays included in the 2013 anthology are all thoroughly enjoyable, with one exception (Christopher Raynaga’s “The Grande Complication,” which I didn’t much care for). The collection starts of strong with Brian Trent’s “War Hero.” In the distant future, soldiers and war criminals have achieved virtual immortality with the ability to save one’s consciousness, downloading it into a new body (or multiple bodies) as needed – thus assuring the interminability of war, conflict, and the military-industrial complex. (As an added bonus, cross-gender downloading also carries with it some interesting sexual connotations.)

“Planetary Scouts,” by Stephen Sottong, is one of the lengthier stories in the collection – and it’s also one of my favorites. Having long since ventured off earth, humans are constantly in search of new planets to colonize. Enter the Planetary Scouts, who land on and probe (“explore” is too lofty a word) strange planets to determine whether they support “intelligent” life. If not, they’re considered open to human settlement. As always, a species’ intelligence is measured solely in human terms, leading to the genocide of countless “lesser” species who might not be able to grasp arithmetic – but are still sentient, capable of experiencing joy and suffering, with families and interests and lives of their own. On more than one occasion – such as when he and his partner Aidan explore a mostly aquatic planet to determine whether an intergalactic aquaculture company can install one giant fish farm on it – this crass policy leads to a crisis of conscience for young upstart Lester. (As it turns out, the planet is home to one enormous “distributed intelligence,” which is self-aware – and thus worthy of continued existence. More often than not, you’ll find yourself rooting for the aliens.) In more extreme cases, such as when it’s home to “dumb” animals or plant life that’s deemed harmful to humans, a planet may be “sterilized”: stripped of all life, leaving a clean slate for its future human overlords. Talk about your euphemisms!

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