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Review: Distaff – A Science Fiction Anthology by Female Authors (edited by Rosie Oliver)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

I’m back with a review of a wonderful anthology and I hope my review will make you curious enough to get yourselves a copy. 🙂

The first tale, The Broken Man, by Jane O’Reilly, has a beautiful allegorical feel to it, almost as if it’s a myth which had been handed down through generations, while also being a look at the impact waste and pollution have on society. It follows the efforts of a girl, Kiko, to save a man who fell from a city in the clouds, and how what she does changes her and the man she rescues.

Space Rocks, by Kerry Buchanan, follows the return of a crew to Earth after they’ve collected some interesting rock-samples. These samples turn out to be much more than what they appear to be, and the tale does a great job of exploring how seemingly innocent actions can have wide, even dangerous, ramifications.

The Ice Man, by Rosie Oliver, is a clever murder mystery sans spaceships or aliens, and may seem out of place in this anthology, but it’s one of my stand-out stories; I really enjoyed this one! 🙂

A Cold Night in H3-II, from Juliana Spink Mills, is a claustrophobic and tense look at how a colony continues to dwindle after most of its population was struck down by a mysterious sickness. It’s tense and pacey and reminded me of The Thing (Carpenter’s original). Great tale!

The Colour of Silence, by Damaris Browne, explores the lengths parents will go to to protect and save their children. In this tale, humanity’s future, our children, have been infected with a terrible disease, and the only hope for them is the technology of an alien race.

Holo-Sweet, by E. J. Tett, is a cute, fun tale about love, AI’s, and the search for actors. Having enjoyed ‘Love, Sex and Robots’, I think this tale would translate wonderfully to that show. 🙂

My Little Mecha, by Shellie Horst, is a tale which explores what happens when children break free of the limitations and narratives forced on them by their parents, using an orbital defence station and an attack on it as its vehicles. Well written, and another stand-out story.

Ab Initio, by Susan Bolton, is a tale which explores the changes a deadly disease outbreak wrought on society, and cleverly uses age and how it affects our need to create as one of its vehicles.

The Shadows Are Us And They Are The Shadows, by Jo Zebedee, cleverly explores the aftermath of global devastation from the perspective of an interesting people. I won’t say more than that, in an effort not to spoil the story. It’s memorable and different, another great stand-out.

All in all, this anthology works wonderfully in showing that SF is still a genre which has a lot to say and has so many ways in which to say those things. Filled with great ideas and characters, Distaff is, hopefully, the first volume in what I hope will be an anthology series, and deserves to be widely read and enjoyed.

9 / 10

For more info about the anthology, the talented story tellers and their tales, check out this site. The anthology will be released on August 15 and is available for pre-order. 🙂 Also, go ahead and add Distaff to your Goodreads shelf.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on June 28, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: AfroSF – Volume 3 – edited by Ivor W Hartmann (StoryTime Publishing)

You might remember that I reviewed the first volume of AfroSF back in 2013, and although I missed the second volume, I was glad to be able to read and review this third volume.

This anthology features writers also had work published in the first and second volumes – voices who have quickly become a well-deserved barometer of the growth of African Science Fiction, and writers I haven’t read before.

The anthology opens with Njuzu from T.L. Huchu, and explores the roles grief and long-held beliefs co-mingle off-planet. The tale is heartfelt and gentle, exploring a mystery not easily understood – but the mystery of the tale adds to the sadness and Huchu leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the mystery is important or not. Follow Tendai and his work at @TendaiHuchu.

The Girl Who Stared at Mars by Cristy Zinn explores how we always take with us what we’re trying to escape from. It is a lyrical, soft and yet intense read which many, many readers will love, even though it might call upon some of their own painful memories. Head over to cristyzinn.com for more info about Cristy and her work.

The EMO Hunter, by Mandisi Nkomo, explores a variety of themes by way of a kind of cyberpunk personality-crisis meditation on the extremes of climate science or beliefs. Sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but the tale works on both the detailed, character-focused level and the more encompassing top-down level. Visit thedarkcow.com for more info and Mandisi and his work.

The Luminal Frontier, by Biram Mboob, is one of the best time travel tales I’ve ever read. One thing that has always bugged me about time travel is the inherent paradox at the heart of every plot – and Biram answers this in a mind-bending manner even Christopher Nolan would be blown away by. I will be very surprised (and both saddened and angered) if this story doesn’t appear in Best Of’s and Mammoth Book Of’s later this year. Mind-blowing stuff! Follow Biram at @BiramMboob.

The Far Side by Gabriella Muwanga seems almost unfinished, or perhaps ‘unfocused’ would be a better description. The tale follows what a father will do for his child, and on the face of that, works – but the story is marred by the sometimes almost childish reactions and spitefulness of the main character, which leech a bit of the emotional strength of the story. Still, it will make readers think, and succeeds.

Drift-Flux by Wole Talabi is a great example of how much one can cram into a short story to make it exciting, pacey and entertaining. There’s a wonderful feel of The Expanse and Firefly to this tale, and the main character’s Nigerian-Idoma roots play an important part in the plot. It’s well-written, with great pace and excellent action. Check out Wole’s site for more info about him and his work.

Journal of a DNA Pirate by Stephen Embleton is a nasty, vicious, exciting tale – it shows how of group of extremists plan to ‘reset’ humanity, and works well enough despite what some may think is excessive swearing and, perhaps, the story’s setting. The ideas present and how they were explored have definitely put Stephen on my keep-a-look-out-for radar.

The Interplanetary Water Company by Masimba Musodza was a bit of a disappointment; the tale opens with what reads like a pages-long infodump to set the scene, and by the time I was done with that I wasn’t really interested in reading it further. It also features terms which would be more at home in 1940’s pulp SF – but without communicating that nostalgia to the reader. But even though it’s the weakest tale in the anthology, it remains entertaining and clever in places. Check out more of Masimba’s work at @musodza.

Safari Nyota: A Prologue by Dilman Dila is a wonderful example of how a self-contained story can feel as if it’s part of a greater narrative without leaving the reader feeling as if they’ve missed something. The tale takes place on a generation ship, transporting colonists to a new world, watched over by androids, and explores morality and the price of choice from a synthetic (yet identifiable) point of view. The short story is also part of a larger project, so head over to Dilman’s site for more info.

Parental Control by Mazi Nwonwu is a complicated and emotional tale, taking place both in virtual space and the real world, and explores the core of what makes a family – or what most believe ‘family’ means. It hits hard, so be prepared to think about this tale and what it leaves behind.

Inhabitable by Andrew Dakalira is an unwieldy tale in which the themes of camaraderie, the struggle to survive and betrayal don’t retain enough of their power to be really effective. It’s as if there was too much to fit in, and some of the story’s meat was removed in editing to stick to a wordcount. That might not be the case at all, in fact, but it’s the feeling I got from reading it. Nonetheless, Andrew is now also a writer I’ll be watching out for.

Ogotemmeli’s Song by Mame Bougouma Diene is pure, joyous and far-seeing space opera. One of my favourites from this anthology, and also something I hope Mame is considering expanding into a saga. This is the tale that captures the heart and soul of AfroSF. Check out Mame’s Twitter for more info.

If there’s one thing anthologies such as AfroSF continue to show, it’s that Science Fiction (or more broadly, Speculative Fiction) has depths and colours unheard of or imagined, and that we all (humanity) continue to share the same core loves and needs and hopes and fears – as well as the capacity to imagine. I truly think we are only still witnessing the birth of non-Western Speculative Fiction, and AfroSF is a small but important part of its continued expansion and growth. Nicely done, authors, and Ivor. 🙂

8 / 10

Click here to order your copies of AfroSF Volume 3, here  to read a great review from Jared Shurin on Tor.com, and check out the StoryTime site here.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: Captain Marvel – Liberation Run by Tess Sharpe (Titan Books)

Hey everyone, I’m back with a review of one of Titan’s Marvel Universe novels, focusing on Captain Marvel herself. 🙂

I’ve been a comic fan since grade school, and although my first love has always been DC comics, I’m a Marvel fan, too (shocker – it’s possible and okay to be a fan of both!). My first ‘meeting’ with Carol was in the pages of Civil War 2, in which she led the side opposing Tony Stark’s stance on a provocative and dangerous Inhuman threat. So, I haven’t followed her career from the beginning, though I do like her current uniform and hairstyle more than her previous looks. Carol struck me as a strong, determined, self-confident person, willing to stand by her convictions and to fight for what she perceives as ‘right’. In fact, in Civil War 2, she surpassed Steve Rogers, in my opinion. But I didn’t know or understand Carol and her motivations, even though I could see the value in them.

I was hoping that Liberation Run would also serve as an introduction to the character for readers who weren’t familiar with her (like me), and in that, Liberation Run disappointed me. Carol is the carol I met in Civil War -as strong, determined and principled as I expected- but this book was written for readers who have a long-standing reader-character relationship with Carol. There are mentions here and there of how she received her powers and events that moulded her motivations, but readers (such as me) who are meeting Carol for the first time might feel (as I do) that they have read an entire novel starring her without having been able to get to know her. In terms of giving Carol / Captain Marvel a well-rounded introduction to new readers / prospective fans, the novel disappoints.

And unfortunately, it also disappoints in terms of setting. 😦

There is a definite difference in the aspects of storytelling which are obvious and important when comparing comics to novels, which is as it should be. If i think back to John Byrne’s depictions of Krypton, I remember how different and exciting the landscape and architecture was, how Byrne showed us that we were on Krypton – on a different planet. But where the majority of Liberation Run takes place (a different planet, among an alien species) has human-centric buildings and landscapes, English is spoken by everyone, the clothing styles are human (evening dresses, for example), the alien species looks relatively human (yes, there is an expected anthropomorphism in comics, but you can tell just by looking at him that Thanos isn’t a human being, for example), and the technology, when compared to what would conceivably exist on Earth at the same time, is the same (except for a cool spaceship). What we have is an alien species living on a different planet being and acting and looking like humans with human technology – which begs the question: why did the majority of the novel take place on a different planet?

Now, another thing which gets to me a bit is when characters with superpowers show inconsistent power-levels – such as in the CW shows, Supergirl and The Flash. Sometimes Supergirl can pick up something massive and other times she struggles with something vastly smaller; sometimes The Flash reaches a location in split-seconds and sometimes it takes 5 or more seconds, when there’s no apparent reason -such as increased distance / fatigue- for such inconsistencies. And there was one glaring inconsistency in Liberation Run, with something Carol did early in the book and then seemingly couldn’t do later on – catching a spaceship, and then having no choice but to let the spaceship crash. I might be nitpicking, but inconsistencies are glaring – if Captain America can’t take a punch from an average Skrull but can stand against a punch from Thanos, there’s a problem.

My review is not all doom and gloom, though. 🙂

The Inhuman character who shares the spotlight with Carol, Rhi, is a good example of how to handle character growth and to keep a character’s arc interesting and engaging. The other Inhumans we meet manage to populate the narrative memorably and don’t just function as mouths for extra dialogue and padding. The plot, while a bit held back by the unfortunate setting, was fast-paced there were cool set-piece battles, with well-handled tension.

So, as an introduction for those who don’t know Carol Danvers’ backstory, and for those seeking a fleshed-out, well thought-out setting, the novel unfortunately falls short. But looked at as a quick, fun romp for a group of superheroes as they go about righting a terrible wrong, ‘Liberation Run‘ does its job well. 🙂

I’ll have to give it a 6/10.

You can order your copies from Amazon here, and check out the rest of Titan’s Marvel Universe novels here. Tess Sharpe has written much more than ‘Liberation Run’ so do visit her website to see the rest of her work. The next Marvel novel from Titan I’ll be reading and reviewing is Thanos: Death Sentence by Stuart Moore.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: Adrift by Rob Boffard

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂 I’m back with a review of Rob Boffard’s excellent ‘Adrift’!

In the far reaches of space, a tour group embarks on what will be the trip of a lifetime – in more ways than one . . .

At Sigma Station, a remote mining facility and luxury hotel in deep space, a group of tourists boards a small vessel to take in the stunning views of the Horsehead Nebula.

But while they’re out there, a mysterious ship with devastating advanced technology attacks the station. Their pilot’s quick thinking means that the tourists escape with their lives – but as the dust settles, they realise they may be the only survivors . . .

Adrift in outer space on a vastly under-equipped ship, they’ve got no experience, no weapons, no contact with civilisation. They are way out of their depth, and if they can’t figure out how to work together, they’re never getting home alive.

Because the ship that destroyed the station is still out there. And it’s looking for them…

First off, that cover sets the reader up brilliantly for what they can expect, so congrats to massive kudos to Charlotte Stroomer, the cover designer. Secondly, what a read! Rob’s work first came to my attention years ago when I received a printed MS copy from his South African distributors, and I’m ashamed to admit that I just never got around to reading Tracer. After reading ‘Adrift‘, I’ll be reading the entire ‘Outer Earth Trilogy‘ (the omnibus edition), as soon as I can. This is definitely a case of “don’t delay, read the damned books!”.

Adrift‘ takes place in a possible future where humanity had found and learned how to use wormholes to travel to many different solar systems, but the expansion hasn’t gone well – and not because of aliens. I won’t give the reason for the background conflict away (the first scene of the first chapter gives the reader a great introduction to this conflict, and the rest of the book adds more detail), but the conflict itself is central to the plot, and in surprising ways.

The plot, detailing how a group of disparate tourists, a representative of the tour company, and the pilot of their vessel are thrown into a survival nightmare- is expertly paced and unputdownable. Every chapter ends with a sneaky hook to lead you into the next and the chapters cycle between specific characters, which gives the reader a broad and yet intimate look into the kinds of people and personalities who will take them through the book. And let me tell you – there are massive surprises and turnarounds; many times I had to lower the book and exclaim to the wall across from me, “What the fuck?!” – in an admiring and jealousy-laden tone. These events serve the plot and deepen it – they’re not just there to make things more exciting, and everything ties together as the pieces of the mystery the characters are embroiled in fall into place.

What Rob manages to do with this novel is present the reader with a kickass premise, stand-out characters, brilliantly conceived and handled action set-pieces, and a multilayered mystery which ends with massively cool bang. He’s also managed to end the story as well as leave the universe he’s created open for more exploration. SciFi Magazine called this: “A TERRIFICALLY CINEMATIC ROLLER-COASTER” SciFi Magazine, and Gareth Powell said that Adrift is ‘an edge-of-the-seat epic of survival and adventure in deep space‘; I agree wholeheartedly with both assessments. Absolutely kickass novel!

9/10

To order your copies of ‘Adrift‘, head over to Amazon, and add the book to your Goodreads shelf here. Also, don’t forget to have a gander at Rob’s site.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: The Rain Never Came by Lachlan Walter (Odyssey Books)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

Lachlan has been waiting a long while for this review, so let’s get into it, shall we?

This novel is categorized as falling into the Dystopian genre, and I’m happy to report that it features none of the teenage angst which that genre is known for. This is a lyrical, thoughtful, often brutal, honest and surprisingly moving novel which doesn’t comfortably fall into any specific genre, though I do understand the Dystopian classification, since the tale takes place in a world which is slowly dying due to climate change.

In this dying Australia, rain is even more scarce than good people and good intentions – there are those who struggle daily to hold to the kinds of lives they led before the climate calamity settled in to stay, even though there are very necessary changes to their routines and their way of life; but they remain good, conscientious people, who continue to look out for each other. And there are those who either live on the fringes, scavenging, and other who seek to control what they feel they must control – because who else will?

The main character is one of the ‘good guys’, despite what he’s been through and experienced. He spends most of his time at the local, barely-standing pub, and is part of small, hard-working community. Life isn’t easy, but folks get on with it. There’s a stoicism to these people which compliments the world around them – they have become a product of their surroundings and have learned the best ways to survive and enjoy their lives, as and when they can.

Lachlan spends a bit of time ushering us into this more-than-usually arid Australian outback, showing us the place the varied cast of characters call home and revealing their relationships to each other. A vague sense of distant danger swirls around every conversation, and when the MC, Bill, is convinced to help out his friend, Tobe, the story builds to a new pace, and the sense of distant danger gives way to a constant sizzle of dread. Bill and Tobe aren’t entirely sure what to be scared of. But it’s revealed in increments as the landscape, the heat and dust, the ever-present thirst the characters struggle with and the fate they’re moving towards spiral closer together.

This is the kind of novel that doesn’t need awesome battles, flashy tech or detailed science to make it sing – it’s a brooding read, the kind of book that lulls the reader while quietly building strength toward an abrupt -yet fitting- end. ‘The Rain Never Came‘ also showcases Lachlan’s storyteller’s talent, and he’s definitely a writer who should be on your radar.

8 / 10

To order your copies of ‘The Rain Never Came‘, click here to head over to the publisher’s site, and here for Amazon. You can also add the book to your Goodreads shelf, and do check out Lachlan’s website.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: The Heir to the North – Malessar’s Curse Book 1 by Steven Poore (Grimbold Books)

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

I’ve owed Steven this review for a long while now, so let’s get into it, shall we?

“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”

With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.

Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries.

As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.

The North will rise again.

Let’s kick off with the novel’s opening – not only does it set the stage for various plot threads, but it leads the reader into the cool world building Steven has done, too. It also plays with our expectations – which then make the climax of the book even more powerful and effective.

We’re then introduced to the main cast – Cassia, forced to support and follow her story-teller father around; a capable and coldly handsome soldier; and a stoic warlock, protecting not only a legacy but some incredible secrets, too. Cassia starts off as a strong character -self-assured and aware of her strengths, weaknesses and the challenges her relationship with her father brings to her life- and becomes stronger, even as her world and her knowledge of it continues to change and broaden. The soldier and the warlock play important roles in helping her to grow, even as they also embody different aspects of Cassia herself – as their relationships with each other grow, they affect each other in different ways, too. Since they’re the core of the book, this works very well in setting up an important emotional aspect of the book’s climax.

There are all sorts of other characters in the book – soldiers, merchants, even scholars, which add nicely to the narrative by leading the reader into different aspects of the world Steven continues to reveal with each chapter. The characters and the world feel alive and vital, and there’s none of the ‘I think I know where this is headed’ – the smallest bits of information are important to the plot, and there’s no filler.

In terms of action and magic, Steven has a way of making the scenes urgent and spectacular, and I’d love to see what he does with a huge thousands-against-thousands battle.

I enjoyed every damned page, folks. Steven has written a book that not only entertains and is an excellent example of its genre, but which is also thoughtful and leads the reader into questions and discussions which need to be asked and had. It has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect and enjoy in Fantasy and also reaches deeper and further, and that’s why I wouldn’t mind a huge saga in this world and with these characters. Goes without saying that I’m looking forward to the next book and will get stuck in as soon as I can. 🙂

A richly deserved 9 / 10 – highly recommended!

You can order the book from Amazon at the following link, and do check out Steven’s wordpress blog, as well as his publisher’s website.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2019 in Reviews

 

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Review: Vengeance – A Darkhurst Novel by Gail Z Martin

Hey everyone, I hope your Friday is treating you well!

I’ve owed Gail this review for a while, as she knows, so… Finally. 🙂

Vengeance‘ is the second novel following the adventures of the Valmonde brothers, their allies and enemies, and is the sequel to ‘Scourge‘ (reviewed here). Here’s the blurb for ‘Vengeance‘:

Brothers. Outlaws. Saviours.

Rigan and Corran Valmonde are not heroes. They are undertakers, lawbreakers, and monster hunters. Without them, the town of Ravenwood is finished.

But the more successful Rigan and Corran become at destroying the creatures, the more a greater evil is revealed – one larger and more monstrous than they ever could imagine…

In the first novel, Gail introduced the reader to a city plagued by monster-attacks, ruled by bickering guilds and aloof princes, in which simply surviving is a fine balancing act. This novel takes us out of Ravenwood and further reveals the greater world, other cities, and new characters, so the novel and the story feels more expansive – but not at the expensive of that which drives the plot: the characters. Gail expands the world-building considerably, taking us into the countryside and showing us how those living outside of the cities live and survive while dealing with threats both human and inhuman, and into a strange, creepy realm which is decidedly not human-friendly. This world’s magic, how that magic works, the cost of using it and the effects it has are also expanded with more details and information, as are the mythologies, legends and cultures of the world and its people. The backdrop all of this creates makes the ‘stage’ the characters play their parts on feel real and vibrant, and again, not at the cost of the characters.

Gail delves deeper into everyone, showing more sides to their personalities, into what drives them, and into what they are constantly fighting, their fears and worries and those small things that shake their belief in not only their self-appointed mission but themselves, too. Even the ‘bad guys’ are scared and increasingly reckless – helped in no small part by events they themselves set in motion. What this all does for the book is that there’s a great balance of action, world-building, intrigue, introspection, and plenty of character growth.

And Gail also succeeds in ramping up the problems the protagonists face, and the lengths to which the antagonists will go to achieve their goals – this keeps the pace ticking faster and faster, until the memorable climax shifts the conflicts into a new, dangerous and epic direction. It’s obvious that the town-focus of book one will become a wider-world focus in book three, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the manure hits the fan. 🙂

Giving this a strong 9/10 – if inventive and pacey Fantasy with stand-out characters and high-stakes is your thing, Vengeance (and Scourge) will be, too. 🙂

If all goes well, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, head on over to Gail’s site for more info about Vengeance and her continuously growing body of work, and don’t forget to the add the book to your Goodreads shelf. 🙂

You can order the book online at the following venues: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million and Chapters-Indigo.

Until next time, Monday, probably,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Reviews

 

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