I’ve read several novels by Stephen Kozeniewski and I can always rely on a different flavor of horror being explored in each. I know he has written some non-horror stuff, and I’d be curious if they have the same…edge to them, if that is the proper word. The author is fairly clinical with his precision in presenting a horrific idea and not being timid about seeing it through to its conclusion. All in all, The Hematophages fulfills that commitment, and should leave the reader disturbed and uncomfortable for quite some time after reading the last page.
I was able to read the prequel short story, Skinwrappers, before checking out this novel. While it gives a taste of the universe where The Hematophages takes place, it, for the most part, serves as a background piece, though the main character in the short earns a key role in the novel.
A few centuries down the line, the human race has expanded its reach to far distant planets. Paige Ambroziak is a grad student given the opportunity to go on a corporate funded expedition to explore an ancient seed ship humanity sent out in the early years of space exploration. Until recently, it was believed it was lost forever. It is outside charted space, hovering above what is called a flesh world, which is covered in an ocean of blood filled with strange monsters. This is a chance of a lifetime for Paige-promotions and prestige will follow this expedition, if she can manage to survive.
I don’t get exposed to a lot of space horror tales. Horror, yes. Science Fiction, yes. The combination doesn’t always come together in print for me, so the comparisons (done by other reviewers already) is mainly to Event Horizon, a movie that shares certain levels of intensity and some commonalities with this novel. Alien, or perhaps even Aliens, might share a tiny bit of DNA with this one as well, though in a more generic way. While I don’t get exposed to a lot of sci fi horror, I certainly enjoy the concept and this book does a pretty solid job of universe building to help set up the story. There are questions left unanswered about what has led the human race to its current status, though they aren’t necessarily critical to the story at hand. Getting to the meat of the story is what the author does, and we are presented with quite a few rather interesting characters besides the main one and get to understand their motivations fairly quickly. The horror elements are unpacked in pieces, though reading the description of the book provides some pretty strong hints as to what direction things are headed.
The author does a solid job, as he has done with other stories he’s written, in ratcheting up the tension and dropping the occasional shock bomb on the audience. It’s always good when an author manages to zig when you expect a zag. There were, unfortunately, a couple of zigs where I expected them, that didn’t necessarily lead to disappointment as much as a knowing nod. The end result is a fairly satisfying tale with a few minor frustrations as to where the story led.
The author does not scrimp on gore and horrific visual imagery, giving us some disturbing things to think about and digest. With a starting point of a world with oceans of blood, it should be clear to the reader that we are in for some pretty twisted things that I would guess came straight from one of Mr. Kozeniewski’s nightmares. The author does not disappoint in escalating the grotesqueries and terror from there.
While others have used the Event Horizon comparison, and it is an apt one, one I will use, but only partially, is Greg Bear’s Blood Music. I won’t play the spoiler by sharing details of that tale, but would encourage a look at it for anyone who enjoyed this story. The short story Mr. Bear wrote that was expanded into a full novel shares a few elements of fear and horror with this tale (alien creatures and the potential for body manipulation), though only toward the end of The Hematophages. Still, I couldn’t help wonder what Kozeniewski might do if he chose to carry things beyond this story and how he would approach it vs. what Mr. Bear did when he expanded his short story into a full novel. I would guess Kozeniewski’s would be end up being a bit more on the dark side…
The Hematophages can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Hematophages-Stephen-Kozeniewski/dp/1944044558/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
I am happy to announce that I have contributed to another charity anthology that will be released on February 1st with all proceeds going to hurricane relief. Houston and Florida were hit with massive deadly hurricanes in late 2017 and Felicia Sullivan, who edited my revised versions of my Dark trilogy for Permuted Press, put together this project and got a ton of authors together to contribute to the project along with the artist who created the impressive cover you see below. My short, “The Collective”, appears within its pages and it is a story I have worked hard to find it a good home for several years after it was to be published in another anthology that didn’t come to fruition. The Collective is one of my ‘babies’ as it were-a story that is near and dear to my heart in many ways. This story has no zombies in it (it is more science fiction with perhaps a slight horror bent to it) and is a personal journey for one man faced with making an almost unbearable decision. It is one I could never imagine having to make myself, which is what made writing this story so challenging and yet compelling for me.
So please consider making an investment in this book-the kindle or paperback version when they are available. You will be helping a couple of wonderful charities and you will get a lot of bang for your buck with 22 different stories from some very impressive authors. Please check out the amazon page here: The Will To Survive.
When normal life collapses, peril waits around every corner, and one small slip could mean certain death. In THE WILL TO SURVIVE, twenty-two unique and brilliant voices bring to life stories of post-apocalyptic danger sure to make the heart race, the flesh creep.
It’s the end of the world. Do you have the will to survive?
NOTE: THE WILL TO SURVIVE is a collective effort by a great group of authors, born from the desire to help their fellow citizens suffering the devastating effects of multiple hurricanes. 100% of proceeds are being donated to two charities, One America Appeal and Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
Twenty-two stories of tragedy, hope, and survival in one volume.
Complete list of authors:
Sean T. Smith
Like a Man and Purchase Order #2113-21A are a couple of quick, tightly written shorts by Stephen A. North, who has bounced back and forth between apocalyptic fiction and science fiction with his prior novels and shorter works. These two tales fit in well with his other stories, both with rough and tumble main characters coping with nightmarish circumstances and impending end of the world doom.
Like A Man takes place in Rio De Janeiro set in the present, and appeared in an apocalyptic anthology the author contributed to several years ago. I’d read the story then and enjoyed it for it’s surprising, startling transition from a sun drenched flirtation between a body guard and his boss’s girl to the sudden, abrupt, and brutal end of the world sequence it proposes with the alien creatures burrowing up from the depths of the earth.
Purchase Order #2113-21A could be an addendum to the universe Stephen created with his Drifter novel. A future filled with enslaved soldiers doing the bidding of others, it has a flavor of Blade Runner/techno near future gloom, though with an even darker glimpse of how ugly humanity can potentially become then either of the Blade Runner movies.
These are two quick shorts that definitely speak of larger worlds and potentially more involved stories if the author chose to expand them. As they are, they are good, quick bite-sized bits of apocalyptic goodness for those looking for a quick fix.
Like a Man and Purchase Order #2113-21A can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Like-Man-Purchase-Order-2113-21A-ebook/dp/B0756W8NXG/ref=la_B002K8VVMG_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507757852&sr=1-1
The Three Egos starts out by introducing the reader to ‘Talent’, a man who has avoided his past entanglements with the Devil for centuries, but slips up at the wrong time and is thrust into hell to meet the Fallen Angel he made a deal with centuries earlier. While he is punished and tortured beyond death many times on his way to meet God’s former favorite, nothing is permanent in hell and so Satan has a proposition for him. If he and one of the other ‘Egos’, Chith, find the third Ego, the two of them can negotiate new deals with the Devil.
Dunwoody assembles a diverse cast of characters, including a werewolf named Lace, Sue, a woman who has been cursed to be the last of the Escariot family line (and the Devil’s unwanted amorous attention), an array of angels, both fallen and those still loyal to an absentee God, plus Hell’s Chief Inspector, Hallows, who gets to play chaperone to this mixed up band of anti-heroes in their journey to find Sephus, the third Ego. It is a journey that will take them from hell to purgatory, to the outer reaches of creation, and on to heaven itself.
This story is packed with the surreal and fantastic, the strange and the compelling, with characters that range from purely evil to blessed, though it is hard to tell which is which at any given moment. David Dunwoody has provided the reader something unexpected here, with a touch of the epic (flavorful hints of Dante’s Divine Comedy abound), though the characters are believable and approachable, with human frailties and foibles. He’s rolling the dice that readers will make the leap of faith with him on a journey some will see as profane, especially with God being more or less AWOL as a Supreme Being that is perhaps not so supreme after all. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Three Egos is a wild ride well worth taking.
For the most part, the pacing is fast-so fast that the reader may need to stop and re-read a few passages here and there to keep pace and not miss a key detail. It does slow a bit more than I would have preferred during the second act but that only serves to be a respite before moving on to the tale’s shocking and somewhat abrupt conclusion. My guess is your mileage may vary on how things wrap up with this saga, but that is perhaps another reason to appreciate what the author has attempted. Some questions the story generates are answered, while others that encompass far greater matters remain to be pondered after the final words are read.
The Three Egos can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/3-Egos-David-Dunwoody-ebook/dp/B010J0VSTW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457301977&sr=8-1&keywords=the+three+egos
Beneath The Mask is a recreation of a prior Stephen North story, a re-envisioning of his first book with the same title. Sergeant Alex Cray of the Florida National Guard is dealing with what appears to be a biological attack on the Tampa Bay area. He and the rest of the soldiers facing the situation have seen people dying from some sort of plague that leaves them with sores on their faces and a homicidal streak that borders on madness. It is clear that this situation is spreading to other parts of the country and globe and even more shocking, it is perhaps coming from something beyond our world.
Strange events unfold with little explanation around Alex. While the citizens in the area are desperate to survive, there are others who appear in the area that look human, though they seem transformed and almost alien in their physical perfection. Sergeant Cray is forced to kill to defend himself and the various people he comes into contact with that he feels are worth saving as things continue to deteriorate around him. At first he fears the plague that has permeated the area and like the rest of the soldiers, is supposed to continue wearing his MOPP suit-the protective bio-containment outfit that prevents airborne viruses from infecting you. But it doesn’t take him long to realize that life behind the mask is no longer worth living. After stripping his containment suit, Alex is forced to continue stripping away other masks that civilization has put in place for him. He puzzles over the deterioration of his and others humanity while seeking answers as to what the truth is behind the strange people and strange vessels that have arrived in the area that look like nothing anyone on earth could have created.
Beneath The Mask has been transformed from a traditional first day apocalyptic tale of survival into a story that combines elements of this and that of a futuristic thriller. The author wrote another story, The Drifter, which had a noir/Blade Runner type flavor to it, though it mostly takes place elsewhere and else when and there are hints here that these two sagas will be tied together in a series of adventures, as elements from the second book have bled through here, in Beneath The Mask.
Stephen North’s writing preference is typically first person, present tense, and this story is written in this format. While there are some challenges with this style, because the reader can only see what Alex sees and hears in each instance, it steeps you in the moment, dealing with everything the main character faces with no additional time to react. There is no time to debate whether to pull the trigger or to leave someone for dead when things are constantly shifting and moving all around you. The story is not driven by one particular objective, although Alex’s instant to instant reactions are shaped by the strange realities he has discovered and must come to grips with, which drives him to focus on certain objectives-most of which have to do with staying alive. His alliances are also driven by gut instinct and the desire to retain a kernel of humanity within him, even while he is forced to do mostly unspeakable things to keep himself and those he cares for alive.
The author has created the start of a rollicking adventure tale that has the potential to transcend timelines and realities. Alex does seem almost too reactionary in this story-pulled by outside forces in different directions on a constant basis, rather than focusing on anything beyond moment to moment survival. Of course, the author puts a steady flow of roadblocks in front of him to provide him with all sorts of adventures, but he is almost philosophically detached from one of the only overriding objectives he returns to throughout the book-the desire to see if his parents are still alive. Of course, there are far greater missions for Sergeant Cray to involve himself in, but I would have liked to see him push a little harder in an effort to achieve this objective. Despite this minor concern, the author has created an all-to-human hero that fails as much as he succeeds, still tries to do what is right even when nothing he does seems to matter, and still is able to fight to retain a grip on what makes him human even if at times there seems to be no good reason to do so anymore.
Beneath The Mask can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Beneath-Mask-Drifter-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00QL64P8A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1421418407&sr=8-3&keywords=beneath+the+mask
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is a compendium of grim short stories, each with their own interpretation of the title of this work. No one is safe here, with a rogue’s gallery of villains that range from the tragic to the demonic that all lust for blood, flesh, and the demise of all who cross their paths.
I read the paperback version of the book, which note that there are 4 bonus tales vs. the electronic version. I will provide a brief synopsis of each tale without providing any spoilers.
Deadly Mistakes tells the tragic tale of a man out for revenge after a clerical error at a law office that lets a murdering monster free to slaughter his wife.
Turn of Events turns the tables on the traditional sad tale of domestic violence.
Stalkers Beware provides some new ideas of how to deal with all those pesky groupies if you are a rock star.
Hope of a Future takes a look at a bleak apocalyptic future where hoping for even the most simple things can make things even more grim.
Game Gone Wrong mixes science fiction with the very prevalent fear of the government watching your every move, and doing whatever it takes to find out what you know.
Mystery Meat is a simple tale of a meat packing facility trying to find out where several bins of prime cuts of meat came from that no one knows about…with morbid results.
Father’s Revenge is a succinct, blunt tale of a father’s revenge when his wife betrays him, as seen through the eyes of his daughter.
Innocent Blood starts out much like the previous tale, but with the desire for revenge going dreadfully wrong.
On Account of Bacon speaks of how unspeakable tragedies can occur for the most innocuous reasons…or in this case, thanks to a delicious breakfast meat.
Evil Mountain asks the question ‘what do you get when a werewolf, vampire, witch, zombie, and dragon walk into a poor, innocent villager’s hut?’ Nothing pleasant, I can tell you that much.
The Heart of Heroism tells the tragic tale of Billy Jack, a mentally handicapped man-child who simply wants to be a superhero and gets his chance when the zombie apocalypse starts up in the tenement he lives in with his overbearing father.
Historical Significance is a traditional ghost tale with a demonic twist.
Memories starts out asking the question ‘Have you ever heard a rabbit scream?’ and goes deeper down the rabbit hole from there.
Overall, this set of macabre tales are solidly written, though some are stronger and more compelling than others. Each share a very fatalistic perspective, though they range from the gore splattered to the sinister. Hope of a Future, Innocent Blood, Evil Mountain, and The Heart of Heroism were my favorites of the lot, while a couple of the very short tales didn’t do it for me, like Turn of Events and Father’s Revenge. When the author works with more than a page or two, she is able to craft characters that are real, vivid, and accessible.
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser/dp/0615858163/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-2&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (paperback) and here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser-ebook/dp/B00E1LPQZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-1&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (kindle).
The Remnant: Into The Collision thrusts the reader right into the madness of what the universe has become for Byron Russo, a working class grunt who, like everyone else, is waiting for the world to end. When a man comes crashing through his living room window and wants to kill him for no better reason than to see what it feels like, it is the wakeup call Byron needs after spending a couple of weeks sitting on the couch, watching and waiting for the meteors to come that may spell the end of the all life on earth.
At first, the concept here seemed similar to that of the movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” Byron is a down on his luck slob who lost his wife and his little daughter and needs to snap out of the funk that has wrapped itself around him, not only for the past two dazed weeks of his existence, but for most of it long before the world threatened to put an end to his miserable existence. Of course, this being an apocalyptic novel with a far darker bent than the Steve Carrell movie, Byron’s shortened existence isn’t likely to be filled with romance and pleasant moments spent contemplating the sweetness of life. That is made clear from the opening paragraph, when Byron is forced to defend himself and kill another human being so he can stay alive. Thus begins his awakening into his stunning new reality. It is one in which he realizes that he still wants to make a go of it and survive for as long as possible. With this in mind, he makes his way to the local grocery store, where he witnesses more acts of human savagery as well as the same complacency he was guilty of just a few hours earlier. He also stumbles across another like-minded survivor named C.J., a young man who looks and talks like a thug but is pretty normal, all things considered. C.J. introduces Byron to the group he is with, who are looking for a place to escape the madness on the streets. Byron, who had no more of a plan than to hunker down at the factory where he works, is joined by this group who seem pretty normal. Of course, normal under life-threatening duress can get warped fairly quickly. They make it to the factory, which makes scuba breathing gear and has been abandoned, like most work places, since the impending destruction of the planet was revealed. It is the ideal place to set up shop and wait to see if the world will end when the meteors come.
It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that the meteors don’t destroy the world, but wreak havoc on the atmosphere when they crash into the moon instead, altering its orbit. One of the side effects of its new trajectory is thinner oxygen. While not immediately lethal, it does have some horrible side effects for those forced to breathe this new air. This makes Byron and friend’s new factory home, with its amble scuba breathing devices, a very good place to hole up.
The Remnant: Into The Collision deals with the very human struggles the band of survivors must face, including coping with outsiders who will annihilate anyone who is capable (or incapable) of standing in their way.
While the background apocalypse in this story treads new ground, the saga of humans in conflict is very traditional and shares similarities to other novels in the genre. The air they breathe becomes the monster at their doorstep rather than some slouching beast threatening to tear them limb from limb. Its treachery is much more insidious and devious, slowly robbing those who have no breathing devices of their faculties and turning them into drooling automatons with sluggish minds and muted reactions to the world around them. When the trap door that is civilization swings open and those who remain alive fall into what lies beneath, the truth of their nature is revealed. For a few survivors, like Byron, whose past life is filled with regrets, this new world is ripe with opportunities for redemption. For others, like Richard Perry, a National Guardsman, it is an opportunity to become as depraved and vile as his withered heart desires.
This is where this tale will divide its readership. While Richard’s abhorrent behavior may be quite plausible given his circumstances and willingness to follow his most primitive urges, having them laid out on the page will not agree with everyone. The abrasive nature of his and his men’s actions speak to the true depth of depravity humanity is capable of, while Byron’s efforts to become a better man demonstrates what we are all capable of, regardless of how harrowing the circumstances we find ourselves facing.
The Remnant: Into The Collision can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Remnant-Collision-P-A-Douglas-ebook/dp/B00IKMLEPA/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top