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Review: Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts by Jasper Bark (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here, and I’ve got a new review for you – that of a short story collection from an author I’m now a huge fan of!

This is collection featuring stories from a storyteller who should be spoken of in the same breath as Stephen King and Clive Barker. Very few storytellers, especially in the difficult and harrowing genre that is Horror, have managed to grab me from the get-go, and Jasper succeeded.

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STUCK ON YOU

The first tale blew me away and made my gorge swirl in my mouth. It describes the fate of an utter asshole as he travels across the border to help his girlfriend. One thing leads to another and a while later he has been lightning-struck and … well, I’m not spoiling it, but fuck.

I was astounded by what this guy went through, even more so by the way Jasper describes it all – pulling no punches, thrusting the reader into the mind, terror and pain of this character to such a degree that trying to tear myself away was like, well, fiddling with a very fresh scab. By the end of the tale I was breathless, shaking my head over and over, and hoping to hell that I never find myself in the kind of situation the character found himself in.

TAKING THE PISS

Damned fine tale that, in my mind, asks the question: ‘If you could right a wrong, and in doing so caused a lot of pain to someone, but could get away with it, would you do it?’ By the end of this tale I was cheering on what had occurred – a mean feat, considering just what it is that happens, but Jasper has a way, man…

THE CASTIGATION CRUNCH

The Catholic in me *loved* this tale, and if any stock-broker, insurance-broker, tax-guru type reads this then I’m pretty sure they will, too – long live Suchs! 😉

ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT

A tale that plays with your expectations right until the end while it explores the notions of betrayal, love and obsession in a twisted, horrifying manner. Also one of the ‘hotter’ tales in the collection. 😉

HOW THE DARK BLEEDS

This tale surprised me – in the beginning I thought I knew who the victim was and how that victim had been wronged, but as the tale progressed I was pleased to have been proved wrong. This tale also explores something entirely new when it comes to blood-rituals, so the crazier among you will definitely enjoy it. 😉

MOUTHFUL

Remember that scene in Hannibal (the novel and the movie adaptation) where Hannibal feeds a character his own brain? I never thought I would read something that would trump the horror of that scene. Not until I read this tale.

HAUNTING THE PAST

This tale was chilling and hard-hitting (not that the others aren’t), and follows how a man trapped in a house after a terrible event begins to understand just where he is and what he is doing. You might struggle to sleep after this tale, folks.

END OF THE LINE

A tightly-plotted and awesomely explored take on a couple of tropes, those being The-Guy-Who-Can’t-Remember-a-Thing and The Maze – didn’t see the resolution coming, and neither will you.

DEAD SCALP

Probably the very first Horror-Western I’ve read, this tale takes a whole bunch of ideas and mashes them together – coherently and masterfully written, it builds mysteries and characters until the very end. Damned good tale!

***

Taken together, these tales are shocking, brutal, utterly creepy and, in at least a part of every tale, beautiful. Jasper explores many different themes and ideas, pushing imagery into the mind and causing physical reactions while reveling in the settings his characters explore. There’s a seamless blending of physical settings and mind-scapes in these tales, and even though I sometimes didn’t want to be dipped into the various character’s minds I just couldn’t put this collection down.

If you’re looking for something that pushes many, many boundaries, this is it.

10 / 10

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This collection was published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available from Amazon for both your Kindle and as a paperback. The collection also features excellent illustrations by Rob Moran (who also did the cover), so those looking for a ‘book with pictures’ can’t complain. 😉

Remember to check out Jasper’s site and keep on eye on Crystal Lake Publishing for future tales from Jasper.

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Reviews

 

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New Release: Through a Mirror, Darkly by Kevin Lucia (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here!

Released today, Through a Mirror, Darkly is Kevin Lucia‘s second short story collection, following Things Slip Through.

Mirror final cover

 

 

Arcane Delights. Clifton Heights’ premier rare and used bookstore. In it, new owner Kevin Ellison has inherited far more than a family legacy, for inside are tales that will amaze, astound, thrill…and terrify.

An ancient evil thirsty for lost souls. A very different kind of taxi service with destinations not on any known map. Three coins that grant the bearer’s fondest wishes, and a father whose crippling grief gives birth to something dark and hungry.

Every town harbors secrets; Kevin Ellison is about to discover those that lurk in the shadows of Clifton Heights.

Through a Mirror, Darkly is a Supernatural Thriller collection masked as a novel. With elements of mystery, suspense, and otherworldly horror,Through a Mirror, Darkly successfully delves into the worlds of Lovecraft, Grant, and the mysterious Carcosa.

Through a Mirror, Darkly serves as Kevin Lucia’s early-warning system to the horror field – Brace yourselves, folks.” – Gary A. Braunbeck, Bram Stoker Award-winner of To Each Their Darkness, Destinations Unknown, and the forthcoming A Cracked and Broken Path

“Kevin Lucia writes my favorite kind of horror, the kind not enough folks are writing anymore.” – Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy and Kin.

Order your copies on Amazon and then head over to Crystal Lake Publishing’s website to see what else is waiting for you. 🙂 You can also add the book to your shelf on Goodreads, follow the Board on Pinterest, and don’t forget to check out more awesome work from the cover artist, Ben Baldwin.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 

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Book Review: Sing Me Your Scars

Firstly, an enormous THANK YOU to Apex Publications for giving me the ARC of this title and letting me have the privilege of reviewing what is a most outstanding short story collection from an author I think every speculative fiction fan should have on their radar.

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Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.

It’s rare that a blurb truly does a book justice and this one definitely does, capturing the essence of this collection in as poetic a way as the stories themselves are written.

Sing Me Your Scars is a collection of speculative short stories – from two page flash fiction to longer, more substantial pieces. While every story is its own, they all share common themes.The one that stood out the most for me is that of abuse and the painful journey victims must endure in order to overcome the damage inflicted upon, to take ownership of their lives and regain lost agency. There were several stories dealing with abuse, but each was rendered in such a unique way that the recurring theme never got stale. Walters explores the various forms of suffering and how this affects different people through poetic prose and vivid imagery, at once alarming and exquisite. I will, however, say that this collection tends more toward the horror genre and is probably not for the squeamish, or for those who may be triggered by reading about the trauma associated with abuse.

One of the biggest problems I usually have when reading short story collections, is being irritated that the story I’m enjoying ends too soon. I often experience a sort of literary whiplash reading anthologies and collections because I feel catapulted from one story to the next without being able to truly connect to the characters or settings. I never experienced this in Sing Me Your Scars. While there were definitely many stories I would happily read as novels, the continuity of style provides seamless transitions between stories which focus more on character and imagery than setting and plot. That’s one of the reasons I loved this book so much. I felt immersed in the story world from cover to cover despite the constant change of characters, countries and even eras. I was also delighted to see the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this collection.

There are two writers I hold in extremely high regard and am happy to call my favourites: Poppy Z Brite and Neil Gaiman. I have read and loved short story collections by both these authors and I would happily shelve Sing Me Your Scars right alongside Wormwood and Fragile Things. Like Brite, Walters brings beauty to the grotesque with devastatingly exquisite images of both the brutal and macabre. This is a skill I envy as an author and am definitely going to be rereading passages from Sing Me Your Scars as I have reread passages from Lost Souls and Wormwood. Like Gaiman, Walters weaves subtle magic through her stories, sometimes tantalizing with a mere mention of the bizarre while the story remains firmly rooted in the real. Other times, Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author’s ability to achieve so much in so few words.

Until I read this collection, my favourite short story was, of course, one by Gaiman (‘Cold Colors’ from Smoke & Mirrors), but Girl, with Coin by Walters absolutely blew me away and left me reeling for days (I still can’t stop thinking about this story!). Of all the brilliant, beautiful and powerful stories in this collection, Girl, with Coin had an immediate and lasting impact, and this story has just become a new favourite – I loved it even more than works by Brite! – tied with Cold Colors and ear-marked as a story to which I plan to return time and again.

If you enjoy your speculative fiction dark and introspective, exquisite and chilling, beautiful and bloody, then this is the collection for you. I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5 glorious ink splats for this amazing book!

5 inksplats

If you’d like to find out more about the author, please head over to my blog to read an interview with Damien Angelica Walters about Sing Me Your Scars and her forthcoming novel, Paper Tigers.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Spotlight: Irredeemable by Jason Sizemore of Apex Publications (Seventh Star Press)

Morning! I’m back with another spotlight, this time featuring a collection of short fiction from Apex Publication’s own Jason Sizemore. 🙂

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Flowing like mists and shadows through the Appalachian Mountains come 18 tales from the mind of Jason Sizemore. Weaving together elements of southern gothic, science fiction, fantasy, horror, the supernatural, and much more, this diverse collection of short stories brings you an array of characters who must face accountability, responsibility, and, more ominously, retribution.

Whether it is Jack Taylor readying for a macabre, terrifying night in “The Sleeping Quartet,” the Wayne brothers and mischief gone badly awry in “Pranks,” the title character in “The Dead and Metty Crawford,” or the church congregation and their welcoming of a special visitor in “Yellow Warblers,” Irredeemable introduces you to a range of ordinary people who come face to face with extraordinary situations.

Whether the undead, aliens, ghosts, or killers of the yakuza, dangers of all kinds lurk within the darkness for those who dare tread upon its ground. Hop aboard and settle in, Irredeemable will take you on an unforgettable ride along a dark speculative fiction road.

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About the Author:

Jason Sizemore is a writer and editor who lives in Lexington, KY. He owns Apex Publications, an SF, fantasy, and horror small press, and has been nominated for the Hugo Award three times for his editing work on Apex Magazine. Stay current with his latest news and ramblings via his website http://jason-sizemore.com/ and his Twitter feed handle @apexjason

Irreddemable was published by Seventh Star Press on the 2nd of May – head on over to their website or order your copies here for Amazon US and here for Amazon UK.

Until tomorrow,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Spotlight

 

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Spotlight: Samurai and Other Stories by William Meikle (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone,

I’m back with another spotlight – this time focusing on a new release by author William Meikle, from Crystal Lake Publishing. 🙂

25 January 2014

25 January 2014

Here’s some information about the collection:

In Samurai and Other Stories you’ll find numerous ghosts, many Scotsmen, a big blob, some holy relics, some unholy relics, a Mothman, a barbarian, some swordplay, a shoggoth and people that nobody expects.

This collection by William Meikle brings together stories from the past decade in an exploration of the perils of exploring dark places, both external and internal.

Includes:

SamuraiRickman’s Plasma, Home is the Sailor, Turn Again, Inquisitor, The Scotsman’s Fiddle, The Toughest Mile, The Havehome, The Yule Log, Living the Dream, The Shoogling Jenny, The Haunting of Esther Cox, Dancers, The Brotherhood of the Thorns, The Young Lochinvar, and A Slim Chance.

You can order your copies at the following places: Amazon US (Paperback & Kindle), Smashwords, and directly from Crystal Lake Publishing.

Looks like a great collection! 🙂 If you’d like to be part of the Release, check out the Event on Facebook! 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Spotlight

 

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Free SF Reading: Annihilation by Paul Byers – Part 3

Hi everyone, hope you’ve all had a great Friday so far. 🙂

I’m back with the third and last part of Paul Byer‘s excellent SF short story, Annihilation; so far (in part 1) we’ve met the crew of a sub that was tasked with finding and tracking a new and potentially dangerous Chinese sub, (in part 2) they were returning to base, unsuccessful in their mission, whereupon they discovered that Pearl Harbour had been wiped off the map (as well as some other, more mysterious discoveries), and now in Part 3 we get the conclusion. 🙂

Before that, though, I thought I’d post the last of Paul’s guest-blogs, and don’t worry, there’s aren’t any spoilers! 😉

***
I primarily writer action thrillers but Act of God is a return to my roots, so to speak. I started out writing science fiction and I enjoy the freedom that comes from writing this kind of genre. If I want to make the sky green, then it’s green. If I want to have a massive alien fleet of robotic creatures who want to attack earth because they need our oil, so be it.

Today’s sci-fi audience is much more sophisticated and educated, most having grown up on such sci-fi staples as Star Trek and Star Wars. Nowadays, a writer can take a lot for granted when telling their stories. Everyone has heard of hyperspace or warp drive, phasers, lasers and photon cannons and the concept of faster-than-light travel and beaming is no big deal and doesn’t need to be explained.

The genre of science fiction as evolved from its early beginnings of Buck Rogers and little green men invading earth. Today, the genre has grown and expanded to encompass so much more than just flights into deep space.

With new technologies, the stories have blended with the techno thriller and military themes have relied heavily on technologies and are often woven into sci-fi stories. Touches of fantasy as well as the ever popular use of robots and medical manipulation of DNA have also grown more prominent in today’s science fiction, making it the mainstay of the modern genre.

But whether as a writer you are drawing on proven and known technology or creating your own universe, and whether you boldly go where no man has gone before or create a theme park where no expense has been spared (where the attractions eat the guests) science fiction is a great way to tell great stories.
***

Annihilation – Part 3

“Officer of the Deck! I’m receiving a signal!” The radio operator called out.

“Locate and identify!” Hollis ordered. “And Collins, go get the Captain!”

Just then Captain Deacon strode into the control room. “No need,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep.” He walked over to the radio station and leaned over the operator. “What have we got?”

“It’s a simple message that’s being rotated on different frequencies in Morse code. Half of it is just random letters, but buried in the middle of all the jumble is a request for acknowledgment.”

“Acknowledge it then.” Deacon ordered.

“Aye sir, acknowledging.”

The entire control room waited for the reply. At last, they might have some answers. The radio operator scribbled down the reply, then turned to the captain.

“I’m sorry sir, but this doesn’t make any sense.”

“What doesn’t?”

“The reply. It says: Time: James Bond. Freq: Total inhabitants of Gilligan’s Island and length of cruise. Full count. And that’s it, the transmission has stopped.”

Everyone was puzzled by the riddle. Was someone playing games or was the sender just crazy. Suddenly Captain Deacon snapped his fingers.

“That’s it! It has to be!”

“What’s sir?”

“It’s a recognition code. A specific time and frequency. Something only we would know. During World War Two, if the G.I.’s suspected someone of being a German spy, they would ask them questions only an American would know. Something like who won the World Series or who a famous movie star was. These questions are something only we would know.

“But sir, James Bond and Gilligan’s Island are seen all over the world, not just in the U.S.”

“My point exactly. WE could figure it out because we’re from earth.”

“You mean E.T. sir?” The radio man asked looking at this captain with fear and confusion on his face.

“It’s just a theory, son,” Deacons said to the radio operator, “just a theory.”

Deacon clapped his hands and rubbed them together in anticipation. “Okay, let’s see what we have. James Bond is of course the indomitable 007, so broadcast will be at 0700 tomorrow morning.”

“And there were six castaways on Gilligan’s Island who were on a three-hour tour that stretched into four seasons.” Hollis joined in.

“Excuse me sir, but there were seven castaways.” The radio man said.

“I think the XO is right, there were only six.” One of the engineer mates piped in.

“Seven.”

“Six.”

Suddenly the control room of a United States Navy Nuclear Attack Submarine was filled with the sound of men humming the theme song from a 50-year-old television show.

Almost in unison a soft chorus broke out, “…the Professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan’s Isle.”

“You’re right Hollis said matter of factly. “I forgot about the Professor.”

Deacon burst out laughing.

“What?” Hollis said.

Deacon just shook his head. “Never mind. Okay, now that we have that settled, the only ‘full count’ I can think of is a three and two in baseball which make five, so the frequency must be 735.”

“Easy for us. But not so easy for whoever is listening.” Deacon said.

“I’m sorry sir, but I’m still having a hard time believing that someone other than inhabitants of good old Earth blew up Pearl.” Abe said.

“I hope I’m wrong too,” Deacon confessed. “It would make it a whole lot easier to deal with if I’m wrong.”

“Amen to that.”

At 0700 the next morning the control room was packed with every man who wasn’t on duty. Deacon thought about clearing the room, but decided against it. They were all in it together and they had a right to know. The room was silent; no one dared make a sound as they waited for the mysterious transmission. Suddenly the radio crackled, and as if scripted in a movie, everyone in the room held his breath.

“Do you copy?” Were the garbled words that came through the speakers.

Deacon picked up the microphone. “We read you. Please identify yourself.”

“Negative! And do not identify yourself. This will be a one minute transmission.”

“We have been out of circulation. Can you tell us what has happened?”

“You’re kidding right?” The voice said in astonishment.

“Negative,” Deacon thought for moment, “we’ve been visiting Dave Jones.”

There was a brief pause. “Understood. The earth is in complete shambles. Forty-three days ago the Ninjas arrived, catching our defenses completely off guard.”

“Ninjas?”

“Sorry, that’s the nickname we gave them because of the black suits they wear. We don’t know what they call themselves or where they came from. The Ninjas are an alien race that has devastated the planet. There are scattered pockets of resistance, but they are few and far between and falling fast.”

“What about the military? Couldn’t they do anything to stop them?”

“The Ninjas knew exactly where and what to hit; we didn’t have a chance. There were a few minor victories, but nothing to stem the flow of the Ninjas.”

“What do they want?” Hollis asked. “Have they made any demands?”

“Demands? Why? They’ve already beaten us. I suggest whoever you are that you find a place to hide and hope they don’t find you. Maybe they’ll take what they want and leave. I will not transmit again. It’s getting too risky for me. Good luck to you! Over and out.”

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop in the control room. Everyone was stunned. The Earth they had left just a few short months ago didn’t exist anymore.

“Chief of the Boat, make depth for 800 feet,” Deacon ordered.

“Aye sir, make depth for 800 feet.”

“Conn, sonar. I just picked up a surface contact! Bearing 287…range 10 miles. It’s a small craft, sir.”

“Belay the last. Helm, reduce speed to five knots, make depth 400 feet, heading 287. Any emissions from the contact?

“Negative sir. It appears to be dead in the water.”

“Very well then, we still need more information so I’m going to take the risk and board her. We’ll move under her at 100 feet then release two teams of divers to board her. You up for a little swim, Abe?” Deacon said looking at his XO.

Hollis smiled. “Yes sir.”

“Good. I want you to lead the boarding party. Pick three volunteers and prepare to depart in one hour.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

Fifty seven minutes later, Hollis led the team of four divers through the LOT (lock out trunk,) a way to enter and exit the submarine while still submerged, from the warmth and security of the Texas and into the unknown of the cold, murky waters of the Pacific. Each member of the team was armed with an M-16/M4 converted assault rifle and the Heckler & Koch HK45 as their sidearm, along with several clips of ammunition in water proof pouches.

Everything looked calm and peaceful as Hollis looked up from fifty feet below the hull, seeing the outline of the ship silhouetted against the surface; but he also knew looks were deceiving. He motioned for two of the divers to go to the starboard side, while he and his partner went up on the port.

As they surfaced, they could see that the ship was a 110 foot Island Class Coast Guard Cutter. Although it was built for the open ocean, Hollis thought it strange to find one this far out at sea, but then after the events of the last few days, nothing surprised him anymore. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, the two teams slipped over the railing and quickly hid in the debris scattered on the deck.

The ship was listing to port and Hollis could see that it was in shambles, having taken quite a beating recently in a storm.

Hollis lay hidden behind the twisted remains of a Zodiac, watching, waiting, listening. Satisfied that the deck was clear and that they hadn’t been spotted, he signaled for two men to go up the starboard side while he covered them. His heart was pounding and his mouth dry as he rested his assault rifle on the Zodiac and watched his men make their way to the superstructure.

He had been in danger before, he had been in the belly of a steel beast, directing 7800 tons of muscle and machine in harm’s way, but this was different, this was personal combat. He was in the thick of it, no electronics, no early warning systems and no inky depths to hide in. Here, he was face to face with danger.

His men reached the stern of the cabin with no trouble and they signaled for him to join them. Taking a deep breath, he nodded to his partner and they made their way as quickly and quietly as they could up the other side of the ship. As he came running up he signaled and the first two members of the team opened the cabin door and Hollis rushed in.

Three steps into the cabin, they were stopped in their tracks by an overwhelming stench that none of them had ever experienced before. Immediately the man beside Hollis threw up, and it was all he could do to keep from doing the same. The room was in as bad a shape as the deck outside; papers, furniture, and other debris were scattered around with puddles of standing water everywhere from broken windows. The room was empty of any human crew but they found three figures lying on the floor, all dressed in black. Ninjas, Hollis thought as he shoved the barrel of his gun into each of the bodies, making sure they were dead.

With the room secured, they split up and searched the rest of the ship. After ten minutes, all reported back that the ship was deserted. No more bodies were found, human or alien.

The men gathered around as Hollis took out a small flashlight to examine the bodies.

They all wore black body suits including a head cover, looking very similar to black wet suits. He could see why the name “Ninjas” had stuck. There were no exposed portions of the alien’s skin except through tears in the suits. Prying up one of the tears, he could see that the skin underneath looked like it had been eaten away, as if acid had been poured onto the flesh.

When Hollis reached down to examine the body more closely, water from his suit trickled down his arm and into one of the tears. Immediately, a reddish-blue foam oozed out of the opening.

“Would you look at that.” Hollis exclaimed. “Brask, go take your mask and bring it back here full of water.”

Brask left the cabin and returned shortly with the full mask. Hollis took the mask and began pouring water into each of the tears on the suit, with the same results: a reddish-blue foam appearing as the water dissolved the alien flesh.

“What do you know?” Hollis said. Water must act as a corrosive on the alien flesh. No wonder they wear these full body suits. “I’m going to call the captain and have him surface the boat and get these bodies on board. They could prove useful later.” As he walked out of the cabin, he found a small case. He opened it and found sheaf’s of papers with what appeared to be alien writing on it. “This could prove to be interesting.” He said as he shoved them inside his wetsuit.

An hour later with the alien bodies in the boat’s freezer, Hollis was sitting with the captain in his cabin.

“That’s quite a report, Abe. Did you get anything from those files you found?”

Hollis shook his head. “A quick glance gave me nothing but I haven’t had any real time to study them yet. But what gets me is if water is so harmful to them, then why go after a planet that’s 75 percent water?”

“Maybe to them, the 25 percent land we do have is a lot, which gives me an idea. Militarily we have been defeated and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

“That’s what’s so frustrating. We have such tremendous firepower aboard this boat and there’s nothing we can do prevent these “Ninjas” from taking over our planet. Maybe we should have polluted it more so they wouldn’t have wanted it.” Hollis said in a faint attempt at humor.

“I’ve been thinking, and maybe there is something we can do.” Deacon replied.

“Sir?”

“There’s only one way we can get the Ninjas off our world, and that’s for there to be less of it.”

“Less of it? I don’t understand.”

“We have a full complement of Tomahawk cruise missiles on board, don’t we?”

Hollis nodded.

“We go to maximum range and launch one at the polar ice cap, then run like hell.”

“I don’t understand? What’s at the polar ice cap?”

“Ice. And when the heat of the nuclear explosion hits, it will melt it, thus raising the water level around the world. We’ll create our own global warming. With less land, more potential ‘acid,’ there’s less of a reason for them to stay.”

“That’s quite a gamble sir. Do you know how many people we may drown?”

“I know it’s a risk, but if we don’t do anything at all, I know exactly how many people will be left. None. It’s a gamble all right, a long shot at best, but a long shot is better than none at all. I’m going to take the boat deep and head north. Let’s both get some sleep and see how we feel about it in the morning.”

“Good idea, I’m beat. Good night sir,” Hollis said as he got up and returned to his cabin.

Deacon turned off his lamp and lay in his bunk, a thousand different thoughts running through his mind. He closed his eyes, and tried to relax and get some sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t tonight.

Early the next morning Deacon found his Executive Officer in the galley with a cup of coffee in hand. His eyes were tired and bloodshot and he looked like he hadn’t slept at all.

“You look how I feel,” Deacon said, grabbing a cup of coffee.

“Looked in the mirror lately?” Hollis replied.

“Not much sleep for you either, I see.” Deacon smiled.

“I was up half the night trying to decipher those plans we found. As a kid I always liked solving riddles and crossword puzzles. I even took a couple of classes at the academy in code deciphering. The other half of the night I was thinking about your plan. To tell you the truth I don’t much like it, but I couldn’t come up with a better one. I don’t know, maybe we’re moving too fast. Maybe we should try to raise COMSUBPAC or the civilian authorities first.”

“I’m not crazy about flooding the earth either, but it’s the only way to drive the Ninjas off our planet. The longer we wait the more of them there’ll be. We don’t have time to get confirmation. I did some rough figuring, and I’ll qualify all my answers right now by saying I’m no scientist, but if we melted all the ice at both caps that would raise the sea level between 200 and 250 feet. Even if we got half that amount, say around 100 feet, the results would be catastrophic. Hopefully that would be enough to get the Ninjas to leave.”

“When do we launch?”

“We’ll be in weapons range in about three hours.”

“I don’t have duty until the mid-watch, but I’ll be up when we launch. I think I’ll go back to my puzzle book and see if I can unlock the mysteries of the Ninjas. Don’t launch until I get there please.”

“Good luck.” Deacon nodded then poured himself some more coffee and wished he hadn’t eaten the last doughnut.

Hollis went back to his cabin and began working on the Ninjas’ log book. He really didn’t think he had a hope of deciphering it, but it would keep him busy, and that’s what he needed right now. He began by looking for any words in English, words that the Ninjas might have translated already. Then, he looked for words that were repeated often. He found the word “Earth” several times, followed by the same phrase or one very similar. After two hours he had made little progress. Seeing he had time before the launch, he decided to take a look at the Ninjas themselves, hoping their uniforms might provide a clue. He headed to the ship’s freezer where the bodies were kept.

He took out one of the bodies and slid it onto a service cart. He carefully examined the outside of the suit and found very little that would help him. Next, he cut away the suit to examine the body. He smiled. He felt like one of those CSI investigators on TV as he peeled back the suit. The skin was grayish and had a very coarse texture; it reminded him of the skin of a shark. Several years back he had been snorkeling and had scared a nurse shark off the bottom and it had brushed up against his leg. The shark’s sandpaper-like skin was so rough it had scraped off some of the skin on his leg. This Ninja’s skin felt like that.

He cut away the black suit to examine the rest of the body, but there was not much to see because of all the corrosion caused by the acid of the sea water. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female, with no recognizable organs. Next he tried to examine the hands and feet but they were the most badly corroded. Wanting to clear away some of the loose skin so he could examine the bones, he took a glass of water and poured it into the wound. Nothing happened.

Puzzled because there was no corrosive foam, he did it again, only this time pouring the entire glass on the wound. Still nothing.

Staring intently at the wound, he went to set the empty glass on the counter and it slipped off and fell to the floor. As he reached down to pick it up, his arm dragged across the body bag. When he stood back up, he noticed that there were traces of the reddish-blue foam seeping out of one of the wounds. He noticed that several drops of seawater had dripped from the bag into the wound.

Puzzled, Hollis took a sponge, mopped up some of the excess water then squeezed out over the wound: instantly, the reddish-blue foam appeared. Suddenly the passages in the log book became clear. They were talking about two kinds of water: salt water and fresh water.

A sickening feeling began forming in his stomach. He had noticed earlier some loose skin between the fingers of the Ninjas but thought nothing of it, thinking it was just flesh melted away by the water, but now…. Quickly he moved to tear open the other two body bags. This Ninja’s hands and feet were in worse shape than the first corpse but the third body still had its gloves on. He ripped off the gloves and stared at the hands. The stunning revelation was staring him in the face. That wasn’t just loose skin between its fingers, they were webbed, like a duck’s foot.

The Ninjas didn’t come to Earth because they wanted more land; they came because they wanted more water! Only they hadn’t realized that there was salt water here and that it would act as a corrosive to them. Suddenly a second and even more powerful realization hit him.

He felt faint; the polar ice was fresh water, not salt. If they melted it, it might dilute the salt water enough for the Ninjas to survive. He had to get to the control room and stop the launch. He looked at his watch; he still had a couple of minutes. He ran through the corridors, shouting to stop the launch. He rounded the last hatchway to the control room and tripped just as he entered, hitting his head hard on the metal deck.

Slowly Hollis opened his eyes. His head felt worse than any hangover he’d ever had. Suddenly he remembered. “We’ve got to abort the launch, we can’t launch that missile.”

“Why?” Deacon asked.

“The Ninjas aren’t here for the land; they’re here because we have so much water. They don’t have salt water on their planet so they didn’t know our oceans would be dangerous to them. They need fresh water. If we melt the ice cap the fresh water will dilute the salt water enough so they can survive. If we melt the ice, we will be dooming the earth instead of saving it.”

Deacon stumbled and fell back on the floor as if an unseen prize fighter had delivered a roundhouse punch. “You’ve been unconscious for the past half hour,” Deacon stammered; “we launched five minutes ago.”

End

🙂 What an ending, huh? I zipped through Annihilation when I received it from Paul; from the beginning I enjoyed the setting (thank Tom Clancy for that) and I knew that -considering where the story took place- there would be plenty of tension, and I wasn’t wrong – I like the way the tale builds, as Paul doles out the information piece by piece, gradually building an alarming picture, and I also liked the characters and how they interacted. The scene where Deacon is complaining about the apparent lack of donuts had me chuckling. 🙂 This tale also reminded me of the SF episodes of The Outer Limits in that it was well-balanced between the characters, the building tension, and the way it made me curious. If Annihilation is anything to go by -and I’m sure it is- then Paul’s collection, Act of God, will be highly enjoyable, surprising and imaginative. 🙂 Excellent tale!

To order your copies of Act of God, click here for Amazon US, and do check out Paul’s site for more info on him and his work. Since today is National Buy a Book Day (in the USA, at least, though I’m sure it’ll grow to be a world-wide event!)

Logo by Clifton Hill

go ahead and treat yourself (and Paul) to a copy of Act of God, or two or three (why not?) for SF-loving friends. 🙂

I’d like to sincerely thank Paul for allowing me to host and post Annihilation – it was well worth it! 🙂

Until next time,
Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Excerpt, Fiction Post

 

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Free SF Reading: Annihilation by Paul Byers – Part 2

Hey Everyone, welcome back! 🙂

I’m pretty sure that you’re all itching to get back to Annihilation, so let’s get to it, shall we? 🙂

Annihilation by Paul Byers (Part 2)

***
“Captain’s personal log: This has been an extremely disappointing deployment. We were on station for 87 days with no sign of the new Chinese sub so I used my discretion and we left early and are heading home. I really think Naval Intelligence dropped the ball on this one; I just hope they didn’t waste too much of the taxpayers’ money for this faulty information. On the way home I thought about ordering a series of ‘angles and dangles’ exercises to get the crew back in shape, but decided against it. I know how much the crew ‘loves’ it when we drive the sub like a roller coaster up and down at 28 degree angles at 35 knots. ”

Just then the executive officer stuck his head in the door. “Excuse me Captain, but you wanted to know when we were about eighty miles out from Pearl.”

“Very good, Abe. Bring her up to sixty feet and radio Pearl; tell’em to put out the welcome mat, we’re almost home.”

“Aye sir.”

“Is it going to be the usual again this time?” The captain asked.

Abe Hollis, smiled. “Yes sir! Who am I to mess with tradition? Besides, it’s your turn to buy.”

“Duke’s?”

“I was hoping you’d say that. I could sure use a piece of hula pie.”

“Very well then, carry on.”

“Yes sir!” Hollis smiled and saluted then disappeared, heading back to the conn.

Deacon leaned back in his chair and smiled. Abe had been his XO and friend for the past two years and the two of them had formed a sort of tradition when they returned from a deployment. They would get themselves the biggest, thickest steaks they could find then go and eat it either under the sun or stars, rain or shine, whatever the time of day. The point was to enjoy it in the freedom of the open air. In this case, since they were in Pearl, Duke’s Waikiki would be the restaurant of choice. The open-air dining right on the beach would be perfect and the passing scenery would certainly be an improvement on their blue overalls and khakis.

The smile slowly faded into a bittersweet crescent on his face. This was probably going to be their last “tradition” meal together. Abe had worked hard and had put in his time and he would recommend to Admiral Martin that Abe was ready for his own boat.

He also had to start thinking about how to finish his own career. With twenty-plus years in the Navy, he could retire anytime. Or, he could stay in and push for Rear Admiral but he just couldn’t see himself commanding from behind a desk. He knew he could do it, but what would be the point? And as much as he loved his job, and being a sailor, he still missed the land; especially the forests. He had grown up in the tall fir trees of Oregon and had often thought about getting a house at the base of the Cascades near Portland. There he could enjoy the tress but only be only a few hours away from his parents who still lived in his childhood home on the Columbia River.

Lost in his daydream, he could almost smell the fir and pine trees when Hollis stuck his head back in the door. The happy smile that had left his quarters a few minutes ago on his XO’s face was now replaced with a grim and concerned expression.

“Captain, we can’t raise Pearl. We’ve tried on all frequencies and all our equipment checks out.”

Deacon didn’t say a word as he got up and followed his XO back to the conn.

“Bring the boat up to periscope depth and raise the antenna. Normal procedure was to do a complete 360-degree sweep with the scope to search for any surface ships; Captain Deacon only made it a quarter of the way around before he stopped.

“Oh my God.” He stammered. “Helm, what’s our present course?”

“Course 090 degrees, sir, due east.”

“Take a look.” He motioned to Hollis.

Hollis looked through the periscope and echoed his captain’s words. “Oh my God…is that…”

“Pearl Harbor.” Deacon said as he stepped back up to the scope. The entire eastern sky was filled with plumes of dark, billowing smoke, all originating where the Hawaiian Islands were supposed to be. He flipped to thermo imaging and even from this distance could see the bright orange and red images of the intense heat of the fires. One of the innovations that the Texas had was that she didn’t have the traditional line-of-site periscope. Instead she had a photonics mast, which contained high-resolution cameras, along with light-intensification and infrared sensors. It was like watching through a TV screen rather than a lens.

“Conn, sonar. I’ve got a contact bearing 015 degrees heading due west at 270, range 35,000 yards at 950 feet.” Every head in the control snapped around and starred at the sonar operator. The young crewman stared intently at his scope and pressed his headset against his ear.

“It’s a Graney class Russian sub, sir.” he said, still oblivious to the fact that he was now the center of attention of the entire boat.

“Confirmed sir; her screw sounds match our records. It’s the K-329, the Severodvinsk, Russia’s newest fast attack nuke sir, and she is hauling ass.”

The young sonar operator stopped himself, life on a submarine was less rigid than on a surface ship, but protocols were still enforced. “Sorry sir, I meant if she had wings she’d be flying. She’s rated at 35 knots but she’s pushing 41 and then some.”

“Do you think she nuked Pearl Harbor?” Hollis asked.

Deacon didn’t reply as he continued to stare into the periscope. Suddenly he spun around. “Lower scope. Chief of the Boat, take us down to 800 feet, make tubes one and two ready in all aspects including opening outer doors.”

“Aye sir! Depth 800 feet, tubes one and two ready in all aspects including opening outer doors.”

“Sonar, conn, range to target?”

“Conn, sonar, target has closed to 29,000 yards. At present course and speed she’ll pass within 8,000 yards on our port side.”

“I want a targeting solution for when the 329 is abreast of us.” Deacon said to Hollis, “I want our fish coming up on her backside, I don’t want her to hear them coming.

“Does she know we’re here?” Deacon asked, turning to the sonar operator.

“I don’t think so, sir, and with as much noise as she’s making, I don’t think they care.”

With quiet and trained efficiency, the crew of the Texas set about their task of preparing to exact revenge on the Russian submarine. Hollis studied the read-outs from the Fire Control station, checked and re-checked the calculations. He wanted to make sure their torpedoes found their mark. Captain Deacon, however, stood by silently, as if in a state of shock.

“Target is reaching optimum firing solution, sir,” Hollis reported.

Deacon just stood there.

“Sir, we need to fire or we’ll lose the solution and have to recalibrate.”

“Stand down. Do not fire.”

“Sir! That sub out there just wiped Pearl off the face of the map and you want to let it go?”

“Something’s not right here. All stop! Rig the ship for silent running.”

“Sir?”

“You heard my orders, Mr. Hollis.”

“Aye sir! Chief of the Boat, all stop. Rig the boat for silent running.”

“Sonar, conn, range to target?”

“Conn, sonar, range is 22,000 and decreasing. Sir! I’m picking up something else.”

“Another contact?”

“Negative. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like a vibration.”

“In the water?”

“No sir.”

“Then a surface contact?”

“It’s not that either, sir.”

Both Hollis and Deacon looked at each other at that reply.

“Then what or where is it?” Hollis asked.

“It’s like it’s in the air, hovering just above the surface. I know that sounds ridiculous, sir, but I don’t know how else to describe it…. wait a minute…splashes… two objects, big ones just entered the water. They’ve acquired the Russian sub, tacking and closing at an incredible rate, almost like underwater missiles.”

Suddenly the sonar operator screamed and ripped off his headphones. A moment later, the Texas pitched down and rolled onto her side as powerful shock waves shook her from nearly five miles away.

Despite the violence of the wave, the Texas slowly righted herself and no damage was reported other than the day’s lunch was now all over the deck.

“What was that?” Hollis shouted.”

“Bearing on the K-329?” Deacon asked

“The “hovering” sound is gone… and so is the Russian submarine.” The sonar operator said, looking up at the captain in surprise.

“Reacquire it,” Deacon ordered.

He readjusted his headset and equipment and listened intently for a moment. “There’s nothing to reacquire sir, the sub is just gone. I don’t hear the usual sounds of groaning metal as it twists in the pressure of the deep water as it descends. I don’t think there are any pieces big enough left to collapse into each other.”

The control room on the Texas was silent, stunned by the sudden and complete destruction of the Russian boat.

“Even several direct hits from our Mk 48 torpedoes would leave some of the hull sections intact. We don’t have any weapons that would produce the kind of destructive power we’ve just witnessed.”

“Then who has?” Hollis asked. “The Chinese?”

“Chief of the Boat, you have the conn. Maintain current position and stand the crew down from battle stations. Mr. Hollis, you’re with me,” Deacon ordered then went straight to his cabin.

“The question, Abe, may not be who, but perhaps what, sank the Russians,” Deacon said sitting at his desk in his cabin.

The First Officer just looked at the captain. “Sir?”

Deacon held up his hand. “I know what you’re thinking, but I haven’t lost my mind and I didn’t bang my head against the bulkhead. Humor me and just hear me out. We have no contact with anybody on any channels, Pearl Harbor looks to be completely destroyed and we’ve just seen a Russian sub blown out of the water with the likes of something we have never seen before.”

“You’re not talking about…aliens, are you sir?” Hollis shook his head and sat down. “I don’t know, Brett, I’m not quite ready to believe in little green men yet.”

“And neither am I, but right now that’s the only explanation that seems to fit. But what I do know is that we are in a state of war and we need answers. We’ll make our way to Pearl, listening all the way and drop a shore party to investigate.”

The Texas quietly arrived off Pearl Harbor early the next day but stayed submerged, listening for any signs of life or hints of threats. Deacon sent two teams of four divers each to scout the harbor and surrounding area at nightfall.

Early the next morning when the teams returned, Deacon met them in the recovery room, not even giving them a chance to change out of their wetsuits before he got their report.

“What do you have, Lieutenant?” Deacon asked, barley giving the man a chance to take off his facemask.

“It’s bad sir. It’s like a ghost town up there sir, both on and off base, we couldn’t find any people…alive that is. The entire base at Pearl has been destroyed and most of the surrounding city, but it’s funny, parts of the city are untouched, looking like something out of a travel brochure. There’s no sign of radiation so no nukes were used, but the extent of the destruction is unimaginable. We found this,” he said, handing the captain a satchel, “in what looked like some sort of aircraft, but it was like nothing I have ever seen before.”

Thank you, Lieutenant, I’ll want a full report on my desk in an hour.”

Deacon sat in his tiny cabin with his first officer reading the scouts’ reports and drinking coffee. Hollis noticed Deacon take something out of his desk drawer. “You’re not seriously going to eat that are you? It’s got to be what, at least three months old?”

Deacon carefully unwrapped a powdered doughnut and dunked it into his coffee. “I put it in the freezer on our second day out and was saving it. Now seems to be as good a time as any to eat it. Who knows?” He said shrugging his shoulders. “This could be the last one I get for a very long time.”

Deacon took a bite then set it on a napkin. “I don’t think we have much choice here, Abe. The information we got from the shore parties has brought up more questions than answers. I think we need to go to the West Coast.”

“That’s a pretty big risk sir.”

“I know, but I don’t think we have any other choice. We’ve got to know what’s going on. Pearl may be an isolated incident, a specific case of terrorism, but I really don’t think so. Besides, we’re going to be running out of supplies pretty soon and I think we’ll have a better chance of getting what we need and a better chance of collecting useful information if we head for the mainland.

“Aye sir. I’ll get us underway immediately. You want to head to Bangor or San Diego?”

“Take us south, I don’t want to be caught in the shallows of the Puget Sound.”

“California, here we come.”

Tension on the Texas was at an all-time high. Deacon had never seen his crew so worried, but then again, they had never been in a situation like this before. None of their training could have prepared them for this. But he also knew that they weren’t worried for themselves so much as they were for their families. The utter destruction of Pearl Harbor made everyone wonder who or what they were facing. He knew his crew were trained professionals and would handle themselves accordingly; still this unknown threat was weighing heavily on everyone’s mind. Right now he knew the Texas was his country’s best hope, but he refused to believe that they were its only hope. They couldn’t be alone…could they?

That day the boat was unusually quiet, and the somber mood carried over into the mid- watch. But at 2100 hours the silence was shattered.
***

Pretty cool so far, right? 🙂 You’ll just have to wait until Friday for the conclusion!

And now here’s the second of Paul’s guest-blogs, giving us some more insight into the writing of and research behind Annihilation. 🙂

***
When writing a story, whether long or short, research is always very important. I love digging and poking around, finding little tidbits of information to throw into a story. For me, the hard part is deciding how much to put in and how much to leave out, what is necessary for the story and what I think is just plain cool.

Annihilation, is a story about a United States nuclear powered submarines and I came across some interesting facts about the history of submarines.
The first US Navy submarine was purchased in 1900 for around $150,000 ($4 million today.) it had a crew of 6, was 53 feet long, weighed 63 tons (a modern Abrams battle tank weighs 67 tons) and could dive to a depth of 75 feet and travel at 6 knots.

Forty years later, the WWII Gato class submarine was the backbone of the US Pacific Fleet. It weighed 1500 tons, had a crew of 60 and was 311 feet long. It had a test depth of 300 feet and had 10 torpedo tubes and could make 21 knots on the surface and 9 knots submerged.

In the story, the USS Texas is a Virginia class attack submarine. It weighs in at a whopping 7800 tons, is 377 feet long with a crew of 135. Test depth is 800 feet and she can do more than 25 knots and breaks the bank at $1.8 billion and is armed with nuclear weapons. But one of the innovations I found most interesting is the fact that it does not have a traditional periscope.

Instead of mirrors and lenses, the sub utilizes a pair of telescoping masts with each mast containing high-resolution cameras, infrared sensors and infrared laser rangefinder. All the information is displayed on more than a dozen LCD screens throughout the control center. Talk about your ultimate video game!

As you can see there is a lot of information to be had, but just how much is really needed for the story? It’s a constant battle for me to choose what the reader needs to know for the story and what is interesting, cool, but unnecessary clutter. You be the judge.
There are some other interesting facts in the story, but I can’t mention them here as I would have to make a spoiler alert, so you’ll just have to keep reading.
***

Don’t forget to check out Paul’s website, and for those who would rather finish Annihilation (and the rest of the tales in the Act of God collection) on their eReaders, follow this link to purchase your copies at Amazon US. 🙂

Until Friday’s EPIC conclusion,

Be (well, er) EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Excerpt, Fiction Post

 

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