Review ~ Under Stars

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Under Stars by K.J. Kabza

Cover via Goodreads

KJ Kabza is back with a second, bigger round of short fiction that’s “Incredible” (Tangent), “Fascinating” (SFRevu), and “Worthy of Edgar Allan Poe” (SFcrowsnest). Featuring his freshest work from the top science fiction and fantasy venues of today, including F&SF, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and more, UNDER STARS showcases wonders from worlds both here and beyond—enchanted hedge mazes, abandoned cities, programmable cyberneurons, alien overlords, 1,000-foot-high tides, secret dreams, and humanity’s omnipotent future. (via Goodreads)

When I read “The Soul in the Bell Jar” in the pages of The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 6, I wondered if the setting already existed, if the short story was an “expanded universe” type of deal where an author explores a nook or cranny of the world they’ve already built in five novels. No, it wasn’t. My next question was, “Was it going to be five novels?” ‘Cause I’d totally read that! Sadly, the answer to that question is “no” too, but it’s okay.

It’s okay because K.J. Kabza puts that seemingly effortless world building into all his stories. There is no dry exposition about how any given world works. These stories don’t have time for that. As readers, we are simply put down in the story. We interact with the world as the characters do and feel like we have what knowledge we need. Each story is being told from the speculative fiction culture it’s from without the easy-mode outsider to explain everything. And as lovely as the world-building is, these stories are about the characters.

This is a weighty anthology. Twenty-two stories, only a few of them are 2-3 pages in length, and a section of “poetry.” It’s broken into three sections: Fiction, Fantastic; Fiction, Science; and Limericks, Dirty.

I’m picky about my science fiction, so the first section worked the best for me. “The Soul in the Bell Jar” is here with its gloriously squwicky concept of stitched souls, but I would as easily love to spend more time with the sandcats of “The Color of Sand” or in the dictionary of “Neighbors: A Definitive Odyssey.” Some of the usual fantasy cast are also given a treatment: vampires, trolls, unicorns, and (ahem) dragon riders.

This isn’t to say that the SF stories are chopped liver. There is a lot of tech fun to be had in extrapolating surf culture into the future with a story like “Gnarly Times at Nana’ite Beach.” “Copyright 2113″ does what good science fiction should do: *gently* show how humans might end up interacting with technology (in this case DRM on memories) instead of being preachy and/or pessimistic about it. My favorite story of this section though is “The Land of Stone and Stars,” a poignant tale of loss set in a subtly different world. Again, these stories are about the characters, not the settings, even as fully rounded as the settings seem.

The limericks? Well, they’re limericks. Naughty nerdy limericks. Fun at parties and apparently cons. If I could go back in time, I would have read them between the story sections as a palate cleanser.

Publisher: KJ Kabza
Publication date: October 27, 2014; Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple & Kobo
Genre: Speculative fiction.

#COYER ~ Short Reviews of Short Works

And, they’re all free online! Yes, I know #COYER is supposed to be about cleaning out your ereader, but who doesn’t love free fiction?

“Abigail Abernathy: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst” by T.R. Goodman

Cover via Goodreads

All Abigail Abernathy wants is a respectable job where she can put her knowledge of analytical engines to use. The Royel Trading Company of Bristol provides her with just such an opportunity, but not everyone is pleased to have her aboard. Between incompetent management, clients helpless beyond her imagination, and a disgruntled former analytical engine analyst who will stop at nothing to take back the job she unknowingly took from him, will her credulity, not to mention her sanity, be up to the task? It’s going to be a long night. (via Goodreads)

While I’m not much of a fan of the “improper” female Victorian character that spends time thinking about how improper she is, this was a fun story. This quick introductory tale is sort of what it might be like to be sys admin in a steampunk world.

“Abigail Abernathy: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst” at Amazon

“The Rose of Fire” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Cover via Goodreads

Set at the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century, “Rose of Fire” tells the story of the origins of the mysterious labyrinthine library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which lies at the heart of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novels The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and now The Prisoner of Heaven. (via Goodreads)

Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books series has been on my TBR list for a while now. “The Rose of Fire” was written between the second and third books, but is a prequel of sorts for the whole series. It’s a nice slice of background and doesn’t require any knowledge from the other books. My only disappointment is that the file on my Kindle includes an excerpt from The Prisoner of Heaven and I was looking forward to the story being much longer than it was.

“The Rose of Fire” at Amazon

“Strigoi” by Lavie Tidhar

Cover via Goodreads

First published in Interzone #242, September 2012. Cover artist, Warwick Fraser-Coombe

Lavie Tidhar is another author I keep meaning to read more of due to intriguing concepts. “Strigoi” takes the concept of the Romanian vampire and the shambleau from C. L. Moore’s story of the same name and sends it into space. The story focuses on Carmel, the turned victim of a strigoi. She left earth to see the universe and returns to Central Station in search of fitting in somewhere. I really liked the mash up of science fiction and traditional supernatural elements, but the story seemed to lose focus near the end.

“Strigoi” at Lavie Tidhar’s website


Deal Me In, Week 26 ~ “TechnoMagic”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“TechnoMagic” by Kevin J Anderson

Card picked: King of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination


Clarke’s Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

(I would have been disappointed if no one had used this as the basis for a story in a genre anthology about magic.)

Taurindo is not originally from Las Vegas. He is, in fact, a xenosociologist stranded on Earth for twenty-seven years until a rescue mission arrives. What does an alien with “sufficiently advanced technology” do in the meantime? He becomes the Great Taurindo, the most popular magician on the Las Vegas Strip. The beauty of this tale is that Taurindo himself doesn’t understand the gizmo he uses to perform his tricks.

The machine was far beyond my level of understanding and education… The palm-sized gizmo worked, and that’s all I needed to know…

How much of our day-to-day is reliant on “gizmos” that might as well be magical for all our understanding of them?

This was short, completely enjoyable story.

About the Author: If you’re familiar with genre media tie-ins, you’ve probably heard of Kevin J. Anderson. He’s written dozens of novelizations and media tie-ins as well as his own original novels. Currently, he’s probably best known for expanding the Dune universe with Frank Herbert’s son, Brian.

Is This Your Card?

A pretty long, but very entertaining set by Christian Cagigal, who combines storytelling with card sleights. The King of Hearts makes his appearance during the second story.

Reviews ~ Spore & Whom the Gods Would Destroy (dual review)

(Whom the Gods Would Destroy was provided to me by DarkFuse via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Dual review for these two novellas.

Spore by Alex Scarrow

Cover via Goodreads

In a small town in the Nevada desert, an alien pathogen has reduced the entire population to a seething mass of black slime. When the Eighth Doctor arrives, he realises this latest threat to humanity is horrifyingly familiar – it is a virus which almost annihilated his entire race, the Time Lords…

Eleven Doctors, eleven months, eleven stories: a year-long celebration of Doctor Who! The most exciting names in children’s fiction each create their own unique adventure about the time-travelling Time Lord.(via Goodreads)

Whom the Gods Would Destroy by Brian Hodge

Cover via Goodreads

“Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from godhood.”

For Damien, growing up was all about being an outsider in his own home. His mother and brother shared an unfathomable bond that left him excluded from their lives. Yet his earliest, fragmentary memory of them was so nightmarish, their lives were something he ran from as soon as he could.

Now an astronomy graduate student in Seattle, Damien is happy with his place as a speck in a cosmos vast beyond comprehension. Until his brother turns up after 13 years, to make amends and seek his expertise on a discovery that may not be of this Earth. The more the world expands to admit the possibilities of a universe stranger than even Damien has imagined, the greater is his urgency to resist being reclaimed by a past that never seemed to want him…until now.

Like a collision of galaxies between H.P. Lovecraft and Carl Sagan, Whom the Gods Would Destroy looks to the night skies as the source of our greatest wonder, and finds them swarming with our worst fears. (via NetGalley)

I wouldn’t have suspected that a short novella for young people and longer, darker novella meant for an adult audience had much in common. Sure, both are science fiction of a sort, but one is Doctor Who and the other invokes Lovecraft. They are surprising bedfellows.

While Spore is part of the 50th Anniversary collection of short works written presumably for young people,  its characters are adults and it pulls no punches. One of my favorite aspects of Doctor Who is that, while it purports to be science fiction and is commonly fantasy, it’s also quite often horror. As reputation dictates, kids don’t hide behind the couch while watching Doctor Who for no reason. Thrills should be part of childhood and Spore delivers. The spore, as it liquifies people and gathers itself into more complex forms, is pretty squicky. Its impetus is to test the intelligence of the foremost native species on a planet and, if the species is found wanting, wipe the planet clean for its own colonization. I haven’t read much Doctor Who fiction, but this is the best written of the lot thus far.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy is also a story of colonization. In both cases, von Neumann probes are referenced, but with a twist. In both cases, the self-replicating “spaceship” is of biological nature. Whom the Gods… is an incredibly dark tale. There is no Doctor to rescue the world, only a graduate student whose own family history can shed light on what’s occurring, but can not stop it. It’s a more personal tale and it *is* a more unsettling tale. Hodge plays with the notion of evil versus amorality. If an advanced enough intelligence seems like a god to us humans, what do we seem like to it? Not a pleasant concept to contemplate. Hodge’s writing is tight and suspenseful with the right amount of jolts.

Whom the Gods Would Destroy will be available from DarkFuse on December 10, 2013.

2014 Sci-Fi Experience

Review ~ The Eight Doctors

Doctor Who: The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks

Cover via Goodreads

Newly-regenerated and travelling through the universe in his TARDIS, the eighth Doctor is suddenly hit by a mind-shattering blast of malignant psychic energy – a final booby trap left by the Master. (via Goodreads)

My entire reading plan for the week went out the window when I decided to skew toward celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. After the surprise of “The Night of the Doctor” webisode last week, I again wanted more of the eighth Doctor. The Eight Doctors picks up where the 1996 TV movie leaves off and provides an adventure akin to the 20th anniversary The Five Doctors.

“Let’s just say I’m a Doctor…Clearly, I’m not the one you were expecting.”

The premise is simple. The eighth Doctor must meet his previous incarnations to regain his memories. Of course, the Doctor being the Doctor, there’s always trouble. Some of these visits work considerably better than others. Dicks’ writing shines when describing about Four’s adventures with vampires and the events of The Five Doctors; Raston Warrior Robot included. If there had been more Sontarans, so much the better. In contrast, the political intrigue portion was rather dull and the framing story set in 90s London was somewhat cringe-worthy.

Still, it was fun. Many of the iconic episodes referenced are ones I had just watched or read about in Who’s 50. It’s a nice bridge between big, multi-Doctor adventures, which this weekend’s “The Day of the Doctor” promises to be.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Why did I choose to read this book? Wanted some Doctor Who fun.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes. It was a quick read.

Peril of the Short Story 2013


I didn’t get as many short stories read during R.I.P. as I intended. Strangely, my attention span has been craving longer works.

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray BradburyI really meant to finish Shadow Show. I’ve been reading this anthology on and off since last year. R.I.P. 2012 included Shadow Show stories! I think I burnt out on anthologies earlier in the year and once again Shadow Show has become a box of very rich chocolates.

“The Page” by Ramsey Campbell – Long, idyllic set up to a sort of an air conditioned ending. I can see this story in my head as an episode of an 80s anthology show, like The Ray Bradbury Theatre though maybe not the best episode of such a show. The middle-aged couple trying to enjoy their time on the beach, the sort of spooky mystery of the wind-blown page, the powerful woman at the end that I can only imagine in a shoulder-padded power suit.

“Light” by Mort Castle – Reminds me of Bradbury’s California mysteries, especially the last one, Let’s All Kill Constance. Bradbury had a love affair with Hollywood. Hollywood consumes dreams and then spits them back to become other people’s dreams.

“Conjure” by Alice Hoffman – Girls. Do you find them in Bradbury stories? Not often, but this might be what it would look like if there were girl characters in Bradbury’s world. It’s perhaps a more perilous world for them than for boys. (This story reminds me a little of Dennis Leheane’s Mystic River, a Bradbury story terribly inverted.)

“Backward in Seville” by Audrey Niffenegger & “Earth (a Gift Shop)” by Charles Yu – Both were short responses to specific Ray Bradbury stories “The Playground” and “There Will Come Soft Rain.” Both solid and more sci-fi aspected than the other three stories.

Casting the Runes and Other Ghost StoriesAfter watching Night of the Demon, I was interested in M. R. James “Casting the Runes.” It is a bit different from the movie. The plot is simpler, but it’s also more subtle in its telling. And as a writer who often hates writing transitions between scenes, I rather loved this:

It is not necessary to tell in further detail the steps by which Henry Harrison and Dunning were brought together.

Well played, Mr. James.

Review ~ Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Volume 1

This book was provided to me by IDW Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time Volume 1 by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Simon Fraser (Illustrations), Lee Sullivan (Illustrations)

Cover via Goodreads

November 23, 1963: A day that changed the world forever.

That day saw the broadcast debut of Doctor Who, which was to become the longest-running science fiction series on television.

And now, 50 years later, we pay tribute to one of the greatest pop-culture heroes of all time with this special series, which tells an epic adventure featuring all 11 incarnations of the intrepid traveler through time and space known simply as… the Doctor. (via IDW  Publishing)

The volume I received for review contained the first three issues of IDW’s Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time series. Each issue features one of the previous incarnations of the Doctor quickly solving a problem. The overarching plot involves a cowled figure “stealing” each Doctor’s companions with the help of a vortex manipulator. As a fan of the television show since its continuous rerunning on my local PBS station in the 80s, I’m familiar with all the Doctors, companions, and villains. The mini stories give each Doctor an opportunity to be the Doctor they are: One is the grandfatherly teacher, Two is the mischief-maker with a twinkle in his eye, and Three is the debonaire man-of-action. I found the art to be very good and especially enjoyed Three kicking butt back-to-back with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. This is fun series for a veteran of Doctor Who, but I’m not sure that newer fans will get much out of it unless later issues bring in more contemporary faces.

This compilation is scheduled to be published by IDW on June 4, 2013

Genre: Speculative fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Doctor Who fan, getting a little excited about the anniversary.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Format: Highly watermarked Adobe Digital Edition
Procurement: NetGalley