Thursday, September 11, 2014

REVIEW: Memento Mori

Title: Memento Mori   
Author: Katy O’Dowd
Genre: steampunk
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $11.69 (paperback)
Publisher: Untold Press
ISBN:  978-0692022351
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

The back-cover blurb for this book talks about taking a walk with the Victorian English Mafia.  I have to say, I wish I had read that first, because I found myself wasting sympathy on the death of an English crime lord in Chapter 1.  I eventually caught on, although in fairness to the author, I was supposed to find Mr. Lamb sympathetic. 

Memento Mori is a difficult book to categorize.  I’ve ended up listing it as “steampunk” but even that’s a bit unfair.  There’s nothing in the book that’s not solidly within Victorian technologies.  However, its sensibilities are distinctly non-Victorian, featuring a female Irish assassin, O’Murtagh, working on behalf of a young woman, Carmine Fox.  O’Murtagh is given a list of enemies to kill by Fox, and she goes to work, rather gleefully (and fairly realistically) killing a collection of Victorian stuffed shirts – all affiliated with the Lamb family.  The Lambs prove ill-named, being more wolves than sheep.

Various bloody complications ensue, including a convenient discovery by O’Murtagh, and an extended visit to London’s famous Bedlam mental hospital.  (Your Reviewer recently visited there, as it is now the site of the Imperial War Museum.  Any irony on putting a war museum on the grounds of a lunatic asylum is purely intentional.) 

I found the story and writing well-done, and the characters well-realized.  I did have a bit of an issue – too much of the plot hinges on the idea that when Victorians engaged in mourning, they did not manage their businesses for a year and a day.  Although that may be true, I found that hard to swallow, especially for a crime family that may not be fully “respectable.” 

At any rate, I quite enjoyed Memento Mori.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Raygun Chronicles

Title: Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera for a New Age
Editor: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Genre: science fiction / space opera
Price: $29.95 (hardcover) $17.95 (trade paperback) $6.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Every Day Publications
ISBN: 978-0-9881257-5-9
Point of Sale: various retailers via publisher's website
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I have to admit, when I was handed a copy of Raygun Chronicles, I was a bit daunted.  At 360 pages, the book would appear to make a fine doorstop.  Usually in such a broad anthology, I only end up finishing half the stories.  Not so with Raygun – I finished and enjoyed every single one!

Raygun Chronicles is the brainchild of Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and is an outgrowth of his now-defunct webzine Raygun Revival.  Basically, the book is a “best of” anthology with a few original stories added.  Since I hadn’t heard of Raygun Revival, everything in the book was new to me, and as I said above, really very good.

In general, what I liked about the stories was the characters.  In the serious stories (the bulk of the book) the characters were realistic and I found myself caring about them.  In the four humorous stories, the characters were just enough “off” to be believable in the context of the story.  Some specific stories that stood out for me:

Frontier ABCs: The Life and times of Charity Smith, Schoolteacher by Seanan McGuire: The lead-off story, this is a Firefly-inspired tale of a schoolteacher one should not trifle with.  It’s set in our Solar System, with the bulk of the action taking place on a terraformed Ganymede.

Rick the Robber Baron by Kristine Kathryn Rusch:  This was an interesting story in which the female lead starts by being tied to a wooden post on her own ship.  To make matters worse, the person who did the tying was somebody who had had a fling with our heroine.  It’s complicated, to say the least, but enjoyable.

Sword of Saladin by Michael S. Roberts:  In this tale an enemy tells the captain of the Earth battlecruiser Himalaya that she should have sex with herself.  She thinks that’s a fine idea – on the bridge of his ship!

Holly Defiant by Brenda Cooper:  The titular character is one heck of a singer.  She also appears to be the target of some evil men, and our narrator decides to help.  There are several turns in this tale, none of which I saw coming.

The Slavers of Ruhn by Rob Mancebo:  This is another Firefly-inspired story, in which a woman’s dress proves critical to saving the day.

The Heiress of Air by Allen M. Steele: A rich young woman is kidnapped, and our daring band goes forth to save her.  Again, things are not what they seem.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Title: Lex Talionis      
Genre: science fiction / space opera
Price: $6.95 (ebook) / $14.35 (paperback)
Publisher: Dragonwell Publications
ISBN: 978-1940076126
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

One of the authors I follow, Tobias Buckell, recommended Lex Talionis on his blog.  The author, R. S. A. Garcia, is, like Buckell, from the Caribbean.  In her case, she still lives in the region on the island of Trinidad.  I decided to take Toby’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.  The book opens on a spaceship where a badly wounded man is desperately trying to get to the bridge, and has to avoid the thing that’s killed all of his fellow crewmembers.  We then cut to an alien city where a human merchant discovers another human in the gutter being attacked by a local alien.

The story then races off from there, and becomes a mystery.  The human in the gutter is a woman, a soldier, genetically engineered and suffering from amnesia.  The man on the spaceship reveals his secrets more slowly, but he proves to be less than sympathetic.  The world created by Garcia is less than friendly, and has many problems.  It’s also a place where humans are by no means the top species in the universe.

I have to say I found Lex Talionis an engrossing read.  Figuring out who did what and why was interesting.  I found the characters well-developed and believable.  I did have a bit of a problem with the structure of the novel, in that there were multiple flashbacks and other jumps in time, but I was able to sort out where and when with no real problem.  Highly recommended.


Monday, June 23, 2014

REVIEW: Girl of Rage

Title: Girl of Rage: Rachel’s Peril         
Author: Charles Sheehan-Miles
Genre: thriller
Price: $4.61 (ebook)
Publisher: Cincinnatus Press
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I’ve never personally met Charles Sheehan-Miles, but I find that he’s an amazing author.  He first came to my notice with a pair of near-future SF/ thriller titles.  Then he switched gears radically and cranked out a trio of romance novels featuring the Thompson Sisters.  Now, he’s back in thriller territory, with another trilogy of books in which he’s wrapping up the very complicated story of that star-crossed family.

Girl of Rage is the middle book of this trilogy.  The book features Andrea Thompson, who at age 16 has now twice been the target of professional assassins.  To say she’s having a rough few weeks is perhaps an understatement.  One would think that the daughter of the soon-to-be Secretary of Defense wouldn’t be having these kind of issues.  One would be wrong.

Of course, Andrea is discovering that much of what she thought she knew about her family is dead wrong, including who her real father is.  Apparently something about that fact is worth trying to very publicly kill her over.  Also in peril is her mother Adelina, who we discover married Mister Thompson in Spain at the age of 16.  Adelina is in California, dodging one assassin, while Andrea and her ex-soldier brother-in-law are dodging others in Washington DC.  Also involved are not one but two princes, Saudi and British. 

The story is fast-paced, although both action and characters are kept believable.  Girl of Rage is a middle book in a trilogy, and so both relies on the previous book and ends at a cliff.  But since they’re ebooks and priced right, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the latest from Charles Sheehan-Miles, America’s most criminally neglected author.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

REVIEW: Hibernation

Title: Hibernation
Author: Ron J Suresha (ed)
Genre: Poetry
Price: $8.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Bear Bones Books
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Emily Veinglory

The concept of the “bear”--the hairy fleshy man especially as desired within the queer subculture of the same name—contains much that could inspire a poet. This collection exploits that potential ably. Not every book can open my eyes to the erotic possibilities of hobbits. Not to mention jocks, cowboys, furries, statues, warriors, and gods (especially the ancient Greek variety). There are all kinds of aesthetics and all kinds of messages about things like sex, love, beauty, getting old and--of course--daddies (literal and metaphorical). I did miss poems mining some of the more arcane possibilities of shape shifting in other cultures (pig, bear, wolf, salmon even) and the actual habits of the real bears—but overall this is a very diverse anthology. There are a lot of interesting insections in these works that mash contrasts together like sexy and seedy or like exquisite technique is dressed up in “aw shucks” crass and macho language.

High points for me were points that stray a little from the central tropes of the theme or found a new angle on it (there being only so many references to beers, beard burn, caves, and flannel shirts that one can take). Like Alfred C Corn’s “Young Soldier” (”out from an overhang of black eyebrows / the left one playing the rĂ´le of circumflex”), Ed Madden’s “Each arrow is a story. Each wound is a mouth,” and Cornelius’s “Marriot Hotel Bar” in its entirety which reminds me of the poetry of MS Merwin although the similarity is not a literal one. And the uneasy simplicity of Dan Stone’s “Rough” is certainly memorable.

On the down side, the tone waivers between classically poetic and wry through a kind of camp that does not always seem deliberate. It can be a fine line between ardent archetype and unintentional parody. And if you are going to riff on a poem by Marlowe, I really don’t think you should change the meter. And there were some grammatical and editing choices whose purpose (or error) I debated. Erratic capitalization that seem to lack symbolic purpose and spellings like “OK”  and “t-shirt”. I suppose one should not question these things, but I do when they don’t seem to have stylistic purpose. There were also a few poems I considered completed clunkers from beginning to end. Let’s just say it takes a lot to sell me on rhyming couplets even when used ironically.

 Overall this is a various and interesting collection but perhaps a tad overlong because it is hard for a collection of so many parts to have an overall identity. However given the number of poems included the average quality is impressively high and undoubtedly the equal of any University-Press-blessed volume. This is an anthology that takes the reader to some interesting places whether your are already a fan or just "bear curious".