Category Archives: Short story/novella

Torr, Edwin; Blood, Bone and Coffin (Dead Means Dead 0); Obulus Books, 2017

The relative merits of my weapon of choice all became a little academic when my phone began to play the Mexican Hat Dance. I rummaged in my pocket, wishing I was better at technology so that I could change the ringtone or at least mute the damn thing. It’s hardly appropriate for a Specialist Funeral Director to have such a chirpy tune ringing out across a graveyard. I pulled the phone out and stabbed randomly at the buttons, trying to silence the thing. It was then I realized that in doing so, I had inadvertently stood up, revealing myself to the dead head.

“Hello?” Detective Inspector savage’s voice sounded incredibly loud. Somehow, I’d managed to put him on speakerphone. “Are you there, Coffin?”

The dead guy spun round. He looked fast for someone who had died a few weeks ago and just finished the impossible journey from six feet under the soil to the surface. He also looked like every one of the days of those weeks had taken its toll on him. His face was bloated and grey, the skin splitting around his forehead to reveal white bone and a lining of something creamy. He gave a low growl from his black lips which gave me a lovely view of his yellowed, uneven teeth.

“Hi, Savage, can I ring you back? It’s not a good time right now.”

Savage was one of those people who never took the hint. “It won’t take a minute, Coffin. We’ve had a report of an open grave in a place called Hampton Green…”

“I’m dealing with a lich, right now, Savage, I can’t really…” I didn’t finish the sentence. The dead guy launched himself forward and rammed his shoulder into my gut, grabbing me round the waist and forcing me backwards onto the ground. (ch. 1)

Blood, Bone and Coffin is a prequel to Demons. It is a novella about the Specialist Funeral Director whose job it is to lay the undead to rest. Sometimes the police give him work to do. Usually, they do not call him at such an inconvenient time as the one in the quote. Or perhaps Coffin learns how to silence his cell-phone.

What begins with the request to lay a zombie to rest, ends up being a search for the killer of residents at the Twilight Grove Nursing Home in Hampton Green, England.

BB&C is a fun little paranormal whodunit with odd people all over the place. Recommended.

 

Farrugia, Nathan M; Exclave (Helix VI); 2017

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There are some seriously messed up people in this world and many of them hide behind the cover the religion of Purity gives them. Like many religions most of the grunts seem to want to believe the propaganda while the higher-ups are in it for other reasons. Propaganda is difficult to fight and more and more people fall under the spell Purity casts. Lithuania’s border guards now test people passing into Lithuania for genetic tinkering.

When we last left Sophia, unfriendlies came to visit. Enclave begins with Hal’s side of the attack. He is not, at all, happy with Sophia and her people and is set on destroying them. Except things aren’t really going his way lately. The cavalry arrives to save most of Sophia’s crew.

Olesya brings Sophia and her gang with her back to the enclave in Russia. Lithuania is too dangerous for any person with tagged genes. When she gets back to Kaliningrad she discovers that Illarion is leaving her as acting commander of the enclave. Things aren’t really going his way either. Then, to top it all, Olesya discovers they have a mole in their midst. It might be fair to say that things aren’t really going very well for any of our players, except for Purity. Or are they?

Finding the time and money for Hélio to figure out the kill-switch is not going to be easy. Especially when things keep blowing up in their faces.

As with the rest of the Episodes that Farrugia has published, Exclave is “size novella”. And like the rest of the Episodes of the Helix serial, Exclave uses a typical serial ending, ie a cliff-hanger. Farrugia continues the pace of the previous stories. He keeps writing believable make-believe stuff. If I got into as many fights as Sophia, Olesya and their crews do, I know I would want some Regen added to my genes. Enclave is well-edited and well-written. Recommended.

I know Farrugia had to crowd-fund to get Enclave up and running, and that might also happen for the rest of the episodes. I know I would rather help fund quality work, like Farrugia’s technothrillers, than some of the weird stuff I have tried to read.

The author gave me a copy of Exclave


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix Episode 1
  2. Helix Episode 2 (Exile)
  3. Helix Episode 3 (Interceptor)
  4. Helix Episode 4 (Anomaly)
  5. Helix Episode 5 (Inversion)

Exclave can be bought at

Apple iBooksGoogle PlayKobo

Barnes & Noble Nook

 

Davis, Milton & Ojetade, Balogun (ed); Steamfunk! (2013)

Illustrated by Marcellus Shane Jackson

Steamfunk! is my first encounter with the genre. Like all anthologies I have ever read, some of the stories appealed to me while others did not. No wonder really, considering the span of genres. Steamfunk is a US-centric collection of stories that love their steam. I keep on wondering to what extent steam could be an energy source. There are some ideas here that I have not seen before.

According to Balogun Ojetade the Steamfunk! anthology came about because:

The Steamfunk anthology came about from a conversation that I and several authors had online about the lack of Steampunk stories told from a Black / African perspective. We all agreed we would create an anthology in which we would tell such stories. Author Maurice Broaddus suggested we call it Steamfunk and author / publisher Milton Davis agreed to publish it.

They chose the correct person to illustrate the cover. Marcellus Shane Jackson has done a great job capturing the essence of each  story. There are cosmetic problems with my kindle version, mostly to do with ↵. It’s a distraction from the stories themselves.

The Delivery by Milton Davis

In the late 1800’s women needed chaperones to go anywhere. Anthony Wainright paid for one of the puppet-men (steam-powered robot) from GWC Factories to escort his fiancée, Miss Appelgate, from Freedonia to New York City. When they get there, Mr. Wainright has not come to meet them. Instead she is kidnapped by a Beuregard Clinton. Clinton shot the puppet-man and managed to hit one of the steam veins. Mr. Stiles, from the airship, fixes him. The puppet-man is fixed and he and Mr. Stiles must off to find and save Miss Appelgate from her kidnappers.

Tough Night in Tommyville by Melvin Carter

Problem-solvers Rudy and Boatwright get off the hopper at Thomasville. They have been hired by head gang-boss of the underbelly of Thomasville, Stanford “Rip” Tatum, to solve the problem of Rip’s ex and her river-wolf. Grace Baptiste-Neely and Lloyd “Daddy” Green supposedly hijacked and killed people Rip would prefer lived. Plenty of surprises line up to whack them in the face like a marching band on coke.

Men in Black by P. Djeli Clark

The title does not have anything to do with cockroaches invading earth. Whitewood and Blackwood are neighbouring towns. Mainly whites live in one of them and only Blacks live in the other. 40 years after slavery ended tensions still run high and it takes little to get lynching blood cooking. Laurence, from Blackwood, heard his dad say that this next lynching of a coloured man was unjust. So Laurence convinces Big Walter to see what it is all about. Whitewood certainly gets the surprise of its life during the sham trial.

Mudholes and Mississippi Mules by Malon Edwards

Genetic tinkering brought about Aeshna with her compound eyes and insect mouth parts. All she and Petal want is to be left alone. But that cannot be when Aeshna is able to judge a person’s soul and mete out appropriate punishment. Petal is another changed human fitted with a steam clock for a heart and a compost boiler for guts. One day Bald Man Head comes on an errand from the Hanged Man. I liked these two women and the story was fun to read. Especially towards the end.

A Will of Iron by Ray Dean

A Will of Iron is based on the well-known The Ballad of John Henry.

A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand

People fighting to keep their jobs from being replaced by new technology is an old and familiar one.

The Path of Ironclad Bison by Penelope Flynn

Zahara and Porter are left in the desert to die. They had both fallen a long way from a steady income with Cross Continental Airship Line. Was all that was left for the two friends a slow and painful death in the desert?

The Refugee by Kochava Green

In the world of Kochava Green humans must extremely careful around bodies of water or they risk the fate of the Lepidoptera larvae. The St. Lauritz All-Mother cloister are extremely lucky in getting a woman from San Lazare wishing to become a novice. The All-Mother cloisters accept women from all walks of life, no-holds-barred.  Sister Amelia brings unique strengths that aid in the survival of the women. She, in turn, finds a new purpose to life. Refugee is one of my favourite stories.

The Switch by Valjeanne Jeffers

Revolutions seldom bring change, only new overlords. Z100 was a key player in the revolution that made women property. Because she had been a spy, she was exempt from those rules. But only as long as she did not marry. She was careful in her choice of men by never having humans for lovers. Life-like robots were her get-out-of-jail card. What is easy to forget is that no matter how tight your security is, all security protocols have weaknesses.

Benjamin’s Freedom Magic by Ronald T. Jones

Slavery is a common tool in human history. One of the many problems with slavery is the de-humanizing of people. In rare cases that might actually work to a slave’s advantage because masters generally do not see slaves or servants. Infiltrating the slaves is the only way our investigator, Sam, sees to find out what Cicero Jensen and Secretary Patterson are trying to hide in Jensen’s barn. In the process Sam learns a bit about himself, his attitudes and how far people will go to keep a secret.

Once a Spider by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

This was another favourite. Nansi is a shape-changing human/spider. Imagine the size of that spider! Her dual identity is a result of her Trickster father. At night Nansi, the spider, fights crime in the city. She is not the only shape-changer. There are wolves and tigers as well. One night, to protect a new-born baby, Nansi kills a tiger. That choice changes her life and the life of the city.

On Western Winds by Carole McDonnell

Through the journal of the Headmistress of a women’s college we learn what happens when the ocean brings a dock, or part of it, to the beach by the college. The dock is to be brought inside the city walls. A short time later, body parts turn up on the same beach. Then a sub-mariner hears a pulse coming from the depths of the ocean.

The Lion Hunters by Josh Reynolds

I really liked this one as well. It is time for the initiation of the Masai boy Saitoti into the ranks of lion-hunters. Eleven lion-hunters travel to Mombasa to meet with Ethiopian Bahati Mazarin. She tells them that there are two lions she wants killed. That is, if they are lions. Rumours would have it otherwise. Bahati Mazarin is coming with them to hunt. Saitoti cannot help but wonder why she is coming along with them or why she specifically asked for their group and hopes it has nothing to do with his history.

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life by Hannibal Tabu

Clara Perry is on the strangest journey of her life. Unbeknownst to her, Clara’s cryogenic chamber was not sitting in Las Vegas waiting to be opened years into the future. Instead, persons unknown had sent her to the planet Pless to introduce them to technology. It turns out Pless has human-like people on it, people who breathe air Clara can breathe, eat food Clara can eat and behave in a manner Clara can relate to. She soon establishes herself as a woman to be reckoned with. Widow Perry breaks gender roles and class roles enabling her integration with people from the various walks of life on Pless. I really liked this story as well. There is something about realistically portrayed strong women that I like. Not that steamfunk is realistic, but I hope you understand what I mean.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light by Geoffrey Thorne

Every ‘jack knew that secrets were death on the rim. But secrets had been kept from the younger generations of Breaktown. When a rip tears Kally Freeman from Other Country to somewhere else, Bannecker Jack does not hesitate to jump after her. “Where did we come from?” “How did we get here?” were questions the child Bannecker often asked his mother. He is about to find out.

Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron by Balogun Ojetade

Warden Clemons tells prisoner John William Henry that he is about to experience the breeze of the Virginia wind and the smell of its dirt again. Only thing is, John Henry will do that by being part of a chain-gang working on laying tracks for The C and O Railway. Oh joy. John Henry uses this as a chance to run away. He is shot but manages to make his way into an opening in the side of a hill.


Reviews:

Farrugia, Nathan; Anomaly (Helix IV) (2016)

Sophia portrayed by Haylee Collins / Photographer: Andrew Maccoll / Cover design: Pat Naoum
Sophia portrayed by Haylee Collins / Photographer: Andrew Maccoll / Cover design: Pat Naoum

Sometimes getting to know the author is as fun as getting to know the characters. Farrugia is probably as adrenaline addicted as Sophia but, thankfully, seems a ways off Denton’s brand of crazy. He is also funny as hell and a great writer.

This odd group of animals I belong to, seems hell-bent on destroying itself in one way or another. Often, I wonder who profits from the unrest going on. Seeing behind propaganda, to the Dentons, Hals and Sievers of this world, takes time and effort. What Farrugia manages to get across in Anomaly is how little the pawns, even at the level of Illarion, know. Just because two parties kill each-other, doesn’t mean they oppose each other. Unlike many of the real-world conspiracies I hear/read, Farrugia’s conspiracy thriller shows us a believable chess-game where the consequences to the players are small, but to their pawns, well.

Purity is clearly one of the pawns being played. We got an inkling of that in Interceptor. Anomaly‘s use of Hal, Denton and DC pushes me to think in one direction. Farrugia is probably just messing with my mind. Cults are terrifying creatures. Especially political cults. Nazism was one. We see another one tear its way through Europe, triggered by the 70-year-long battle between USA and Russia that is, at this part of the “game”, destroying the Middle-East. Purity has reached the point of the mob. “Burn the witches” is a chant at one of their rallies. Farrugia paints the mindlessness, hysterical anger, fear and violence present in such a mob perfectly.

We get to know Marina better. I find myself curious about her. “Will this hurt?” she asked. And it did. It takes a special kind of training to acquire the mind-set of the researchers in the various Columns, training most people would pass.

Eastern Europe is clearly in trouble and the only ones who might save it are Sophia and Olesya’s people. But only if the two groups cooperate. Both feel the need to talk but are afraid to trust the other. They know that no matter what they choose, the likelihood of their groups getting out intact is nil. However, both are the kind of leader who wants to get as much of her team out alive and as well as possible.

What on earth are Intron’s goals? They aren’t what Hélio  says. Why are Fifth Column’s implants turning up in such strange people? Who are training these new, indestructible operatives? What is DC up to? How are Purity identifying the mutants? Can paranoia be taken too far?

As usual, I had fun. Lots of action, lots of conspiracy and one hell of a mystery. Definitely recommended.

I was given an advance copy of Anomaly to review.


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix
  2. Exile
  3. Interceptor

Anomaly is available at Amazon

Farrugia, Nathan; Interceptor (Helix III) (2016)

Helix 3 - Interceptor cover

Sievers turned his lapel out so Denton could see him reaching for a small, slender tin. He crouched and opened the tin on the floorboards, then stepped back. Inside, a large stainless steel and glass syringe. The liquid inside the syringe burned with the colors of molten lava.

“You already know what this is,” Sievers said. “And you’ll need it, if you intend to live long enough to find what you’re really looking for.”

Denton took a step toward him. “You’re using my people to get what you want.”

For the first time, Sievers smiled. White teeth flashed between his black beard. “And you are doing precisely the same.”

Colonel Wolfram Sievers and Lieutenant Denton have lived a long time. Both are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve what they want. For Denton that seems to be world domination through Project Gate. Sievers appears to be playing another game. That game could be called chaos. Peace would probably be boring business for his superiors. Obvious suspects for such superiors might be arms manufacturers who may or may not work with biological/genetic research firms like Intero. As far as I can tell, the various countries (certainly many politicians) in the Helix world (and real) are simply pawns in the hands of these entities.

As I have said in previous reviews, one of the major appeals of Farrugia‘s stories is that they could happen. Reactions of the general populace would probably (and do) fit his description of the election of the Purity party’s leadership into Poland’s government. Fear of people with genetic mutations is increasing among the population, thereby legitimizing the Purists going after our “heroes” with the aim of targeting/turning off their mutations.

In Exile, Sophia met an operative from the Fifth Column who self-destructed when Sophia attempted to de-program her. This time around, she meets a completely different type of agent. Who or what these new operatives belong to becomes a pressing question. So does the question of DC’s loyalties. Will Jay, Nasira, Damien and Aviary be able to infiltrate Intero’s data system and what about finding Val. How is that going for Olesya and her team? And who the hell are the Benefactors?

From the various links, you would be correct in presuming I had fun with Interceptor. There is so much going on, I cannot help but dig. At the same time, I do have to stop digging and write a review. Once again, definitely recommended.


Farrugia provided me with a reviewer’s copy of Interceptor.


Interceptor is available at Amazon


My reviews of:

  1. Helix Episode I
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  4. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  5. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Zanbaka, Elias: Environmentally Friendly (2016)

Cover by The Cover Collection
Cover by The Cover Collection

“Yeah, well, have a talk with ’em. They somehow only managed to get the money and the okay to do this right after he escaped a week ago. They got an opportunity and they ran with it! Either way, he’s boxed in now and that’s what matters,”

Convenient that Major Bushell ran away when he did. If it wasn’t for the fact that Zanbaka made up this story, I would have suspected the “specialists” of letting Bushell out of his maximum security cage.

As the story opens, we find ourselves on Hollywood Boulevard, with Sergeant Schaeffer, chasing Bushell. Schaeffer seems like a pretty level-headed police officer who has to handle Bushell, trigger-happy police officers and the specialists, all without getting killed. Particularly one officer, Lieutenant Hazzard, seems to have either/both a martyr wish or/and a killing wish. He is too angry for the kind of job he has. Lieutenant means that he should be supervising Schaeffer, but this story shows the opposite.

Bushell is messed up. His PTSD is severe and has driven him on his own crusade against Mother Nature. He seems to think that he can kill it, but nature does not go down easily. Major Bushell has experience with how thorough nature can be when it does its worst.

This is Elias Zanbaka’s first published (self-published) story. There are some awkward sentences, but Environmentally Friendly is an action-packed, fun, read-in-one-go 19 page story. I recommend it.


The author gave me a copy of Environmentally Friendly to, hopefully, review


Reviews:


Environmentally Friendly is available at Amazon

Farrugia, Nathan; Exile (Helix II) (2016)

Helix - Episode 2
Photo by Andrew Maccoll, Cover design by Pat Naoum

Nathan. You cretin.  If telepathic strangling had been possible, I might have given it a try all the way from Norway. Cliff-hangers like this should be forbidden.

History repeats itself over and over and over again. Using The Fifth Column as his title for the Sophia series, and inserting Sixth Column as rebels to the usurper group, shows us how we continue to live in repetition. The tool used by any power, be it national or institutional, to get the public to go along with it is two-fold: propaganda (mild brainwashing) and force. In the Fifth Column trilogy, Denton and McLoughlin used both to get a strong hold on US military, US government and US public. Propaganda uses less blood and is often (usually) difficult to see through.

I am 51 years old and have been through all sorts of propaganda periods. Usually, I like to think of myself as a feminist. In Exile, Nathan showed me how far I have left to go.

Damien, Jay and Nasira have gone to Las Vegas to get hold of Aviary (from The Fifth Column). Since Jay has lost his genetic advantages, and is still healing from the killing shots from Helix I, he is get-away driver. Nasira and Damien want to rescue Aviary and have to get through a group of Marines guarding her room. Nasira begins the fight and Damien joins in.

“That would be my cue, Damien thought.

He launched for the marine behind him, grasped the barrel of her gun and twisted it up, tangling her trigger finger. The scope broke her nose, blood spattering the door of the room.”

I was completely surprised when the marine was a woman. So much for my feminism. But that is the power of propaganda. Farrugia just dump women and men into situations without regard for gender and lets them do their thing. And that is incredibly cool and hopeful.

There are three main groups in Exile. The first is the above. Their self-imposed job is to find Aviary and get her to help them again. The above shows one of the complications that arise.

Our second group is Olesya and Ark(adiy) and their masters. Val was taken by Intron Genetics Incorporated operators towards the end of Helix I. She was the third operative taken that week. They are not the only three who have been kidnapped. The loss of Ark’s sister hit both of them hard, and they desperately want her back. But Illarion does not agree with their assessment of Intron’s involvement. So he sends them to Poland due to an apparent shift of Fifth Column operatives to Eastern Europe and the loss of several hunters in the area. Something major seems to be going down.

The third group is Sophia, Czarina and Ieva. Sophia rescued and deprogrammed both of them. At this point she was teaching them to deprogram others. That is Sophia’s main mission (much as it is Olesya’s), to catch and deprogram Fifth Column operatives. However, catching people who fight for their lives is not a simple matter. At least Sophia has access to the location of every live Fifth Column operative.

Finally, there is the matter of Denton and Loughlin’s goal of making impossible-to-catch operatives. These two are extremely driven people who will do absolutely anything to accomplish their goals and retain their positions. That includes operators like Priya, who Sophia stumbles across on one of her jobs to save people from the clutches of the Fifth Column.

Well written as usual. Fun and believable fighting. Plenty of intrigue. Farrugia does techno-thrillers well. Definitely recommended.


Exile: Helix II is available on Amazon US


My review of Helix: Episode I


An ARC of Exile (Helix II) was given to me by the author


Intron:

Introns are present in the initial RNA transcript, known as pre-mRNA. They need to be removed in order for the mRNA to be able to direct the production of proteins. Pre-mRNA, therefore, undergoes a process, known as splicing, to create mature mRNA. (6, 8)

It is vital for the introns to be removed precisely, as any left-over intron nucleotides, or deletion of exon nucleotides, may result in a faulty protein being produced. This is because the amino acids that make up proteins are joined together based on codons, which consist of three nucleotides. An imprecise intron removal thus may result in a frameshift, which means that the genetic code would be read incorrectly. (3)

This can be explained by using the following phrase as a metaphor for an exon: “BOB THE BIG TAN CAT”. If the intron before this exon was imprecisely removed, so that the “B” was no longer present, then the sequence would become unreadable: “OBT HEB IGT ANC AT…”