Writer of Horror Fiction

Posts tagged “science fiction

Review of Stephen A. North’s “Like A Man” and “Purchase Order #2113-21A”

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

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Review of David Dunwoody’s “The Three Egos”

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


Review of Stephen North’s “Beneath The Mask”

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


Review of Rebecca Besser’s “Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death”

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).


Review of P.A. Douglas’s “The Remnant: Into The Collision”

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


Review of Iain McKinnon’s “From The Torment of Dreams”

Iain McKinnon, known for his apocalyptic zombie novels Domain of The Dead and Remains of The Dead moves into the realm of science fiction with From The Torment of Dreams, which has absolutely nothing to do with zombies.  In deep space, a war is being waged between the Terrain Alliance and one of their subjugated colonies, Neotra.  The author doesn’t provide the reader with an in depth political explanation of why the Neotrans have fought to separate themselves from Earth and its allies at the start of this tale, instead choosing to thrust us right in the middle of a battle in space, or to be more exact, a rebellion ambush of a ship filled with ground troops being brought in to fortify the Alliance’s positions.  The only survivor of a devastating attack on the ship is Lan, a young man who joined the military to get away from a lost love.  Unfortunately for Lan, his cryogenically induced deep space dreams are filled with visions of Nicola, his former love, playing in his head like a broken record.  Even as he awakens to make his way to an escape pod as the ship is breaking up, visions of the woman he loved and who dumped him plague him relentlessly.

We are also introduced to Captain Jackson, one of the rebel leaders of the assault on Lan’s ship, who crosses paths with the injured soldier as the battle rages on aboard ship.  Mistaken for another rebel when Terrain reinforcements arrive, Lan is imprisoned along with Jackson and his crew.

At the same time, we are introduced to Zinner, who is a Bavashee, a part of the Terrain military Special Forces who are genetically grown to be the perfect warriors.  Only a few remain in the galaxy (they were plentiful during the Apocalypse Wars in the ancient past), and Zinner is one of the best still around.  In his efforts to infiltrate Neotran on a secret mission, he comes across and wipes out a small, somewhat primitive village far away from the main civilized outposts of the colony, in an effort to maintain secrecy.  He kills them all out except for Nasim, who was away from the village at the time, returning to discover the horror Zinner and his team have left behind.  Nasim, who has some intriguing talents of his own, chooses to pursue the Special Forces leader in an effort to get revenge.

The author pulls together a great many ‘smaller’ and ‘bigger’ subplots while the threads of the main story get weaved together with the others at a steady pace.  The author leaves the main path a time or two, but always returns to it in time.  With these diversions we get to see the war in a bigger picture format-from the Terrain General discussing strategy with his right hand man to one of the men plotting to assassinate a key political figure.  The plot does meander a bit, but the stories kept my interest throughout.

The writing here is solid, and Iain has a strong concept of military tactics and makes the science fiction plausible-allowing the tale to not get gummed up with over the top details that would have been a distraction.  The characters make sense and fit well into their environments-with enough background details to enlighten but not smother.  Zimmer is understandably brutal and vicious, while Lan is tortured but transformed by both his military training and the torture of his body while imprisoned and by the dreams that endlessly haunt him.

I thought it interesting that the author was able to deftly steer me away from rooting for either side in this war (or so it seemed).  Sure, there were reasons for believing that the Neotrans deserved their freedom, but it was the characters major and minor, including the Terrain General who plots and plans both the attacks and defense of his forces, that really mattered here.  Iain McKinnon has a knack for crafting characters that you feel an emotional attachment to-whether you love them or hate them, they get under your skin and stay there for a while.

Overall, this is a fun sci fi tale of rollicking space battles and the soldiers who fight in them.  But this story told could take place in space, on earth, in the future or in the far flung past and it would still make sense.  It is a saga of men and the wars they wage, which is a timeless concept, and one that is endlessly intriguing.

From The Torment of Dreams can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D4DVCHU/ref=cm_cr_thx_view


Review of David Dunwoody’s “The Harvest Cycle”

The Harvest Cycle is an Apocalyptic tale which takes place fifty years since the first harvesters appeared, boiling up from the sea to claim as many human lives as they possibly can for a far distant god who wishes to consume the dreams of mankind.  The creatures-fast, silent monsters with claws that can slice through anything, including the skulls of its victims, have come many times since then, driving the remains of humanity into hiding far beneath the surface of the earth.  Those that survive have chosen to either surgically remove the part of their brains that the harvesters are compelled to devour, or they decide to remain uncut retaining their ability to think creatively and to dream by those who have lost so much with the mutilation of their brains (and souls as well).  In addition to the horrors of the harvesters, humanity must also avoid the ‘synths’ or robots that were once loyal servants to humanity that realized during the first harvest the endless nightmarish hell that awaits those humans in the afterlife whose brains are devoured by harvesters.  They are on a mission of mercy to kill all of humanity to save them from this horrible fate.

The story begins when a group of dreamers, led by a hopeful visionary along with a woman who is psychically linked to the nightmare god who created the harvesters and craves humanity’s dreams, go on a quest with the hope of somehow destroying the harvesters.  Pursued by a police officer named Jack DiVinci, one of the soulless survivors who has a secret that allows him to still be creative and dream, as well as a squad of robots on a search and destroy mission.

David Dunwoody’s latest novel mixes elements of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, Asimov’s robots (with the authors unique twist on the Laws of Robotics…or more specifically, the zeroth law that Asimov added last: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm), and a slight hint of noir with Jack DiVinci, a man who believes what he is doing is saving the human race, despite his own doubts on what it means to be saved.

This is one of the more unique visions of the apocalypse that I’ve ever read, with plenty of madness and mayhem to go around, plus plenty of gore and a high body count to boot.  Dunwoody has this knack for making a story gruesome, horrifying, and yet totally accessible.  He has no fear when it comes to pushing the reader’s buttons-not just with who he is willing to torture and maim, but with how the universe he creates works.  It isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it feels like I was being beaten senseless by the brutality of what happens in this tale, but there is beauty here too-hope that humanity can somehow overcome its own vile failings and perhaps persevere against impossible odds.

I haven’t been disappointed by anything I’ve read by David Dunwoody as of yet, and The Harvest Cycle is no exception.  This is potent tale that mixes supernatural horror and science fiction with a fluid grace that few authors can pull off with such skill.

The Harvest Cycle can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1934861324/ref=cm_cr_thx_view