Category Archives: Short story/novella

Svingen & Pedersen; Warped (The Meantime stories III)(2018)

Illustrated by Håkon Lystad

Of the three Meantime stories, Warped is my favourite. It is probably the shortest of the three and certainly the wackiest. Svingen and Pedersen take us on a journey to figure out where the Agatha X has gone.

A sudden tremor and the screeching noise of G-force on metal throws Captain Henderson out of her daydream. The spacecraft quivers and groans for a few seconds, before falling quiet again.

Some translation issues still exist (Norwegian to English). Warped is completely unlike Flushed and not only because it is a “science fiction” story. It feels like a different person wrote Flushed from the one who wrote Warped. Whatever happened, it worked.

The authors gave me an ARC copy to review.


My reviews of Flushed and Converted

Svingen & Pedersen; Converted (The Meantime stories II)(2018)

Illustrated by Håkon Lystad

Converted is the second short-story of The Meantime Series. “Draghan and the shaman had been on the inside of the innermost circles of power since the previous regime” until “King Avlar met his premature death after a clumsy and unfortunate accident where he sat down on his sword”. Both Draghan and the shaman had an instantaneous conversion from the old god to the god of Avlar’s son. We follow the two of them in Converted.

While there are language and grammar issues, Svingen & Pedersen have solved many of the problems I saw in Flushed. I particularly like their take on the worth of people. Some places in the world are still like this.

The authors gave me an ARC copy to review.


My review of Flushed

Svingen & Pedersen; Flushed (Meantime stories I) (2018)

Topics of the Meantime short-stories are independent of each other. Thus far there are three of them. Flushed is the first one, and the one I enjoyed the least. Most of that has to do with translation problems and proper word usage. That is not to say that it was bad. Flushed is a story about how a president handles “an uninterrupted log of such length and girth” when it refuses to be flushed down the UK PM’s toilet. Most of the story is about the president’s thoughts interspersed with short spurts of action.

While “any resemblance to real persons” is entirely coincidental according to Svingen & Pedersen, their presidential character borrows heavily from a certain US president. Flushed’s president certainly behaves the way much of media presents him.

Remember! Flushed is supposed to be a piece of humour, not a piece of political commentary.

The authors sent me an ARC copy to review.

 

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

When we last left Sophia, unfriendlies came to visit.

She deposited her empty glass beside Aviary’s phone on the coffee table. The phone flashed.

Infrared cameras.

Stingball grenades hit the floor. Everyone dropped their drinks and scattered. The grenades detonated, deafeningly loud, blasting the nearby windows into pieces.

Everything around Sophia turned white.

Enclave begins with Hal’s point of view 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. His one goal in life is to capture Sophia alive and kill the rest of the members of her crew.

There are some seriously messed up people in Farrugia’s world and many of them hide behind the cover Purity.  Purity is anti-genetic tinkering (except the kind they approve of) and as with many ideologies most of the grunts in Purity want to believe its  propaganda while the higher-ups are in it for other reasons. Once propaganda gets a hold it is difficult to fight and keep from spreading. Lithuania’s border guards have started testing people for genetic tinkering making it too dangerous for people with specific genetic tags.

Sophia needs a new safe-house and Olesya brings Sophia and her crew with her back to the enclave in Kaliningrad in Russia. When she gets there she finds out that Illarion is leaving her in charge of the enclave. To top it all, Olesya discovers there is 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?

Nathan M. Farrugia writes the serial Helix. So far, it consists of six episodes (see links to reviews below), each the size of a novellas, each ending with cliff-hangers.  Three of these episodes together consist of around 7000 words. Farrugia had to crowd-fund Enclave and will probably have to do the same for the remaining three episodes. Due to his background and interests, Farrugia makes his specialist soldiers believable and that goes for the technology as well. Enclave is a fast-paced cyberpunk thriller with lots of fighting and stunts. Crazy stunts that require the regenerative genes of the gang.

The author gave me a copy of Exclave. Update 13.03.3018. I later bought my own copy. I have changed the review a bit.


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)

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, given 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 an excellent 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. Upon arrival they cannot find Mr. Wainright. Instead, Miss Appelgate is kidnapped by Beuregard Clinton. Clinton shot the puppet-man and managed to hit one of the steam veins. Mr. Stiles, from the airship, fixes him. After that the puppet-man and Mr. Stiles set 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, like a marching band on coke, line up to whack them in the face.

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. Finances had fallen a long way from their 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 be extremely careful around bodies of water or they risk the fate of those infected with Lepidoptera larvae. St. Lauritz All-Mother cloister is extremely lucky when a woman from San Lazare wishes to become a novice there. 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 had been 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 she forgot is that 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 their owners generally do not see slaves or servants. Infiltrating a particular group of slaves is the only way our investigator, Sam, has to find out what Cicero Jensen and Secretary Patterson try to hide inside Jensen’s barn. During his investigations, 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. A decision is made to bring the dock inside 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 comes with them on the hunt. Saitoti cannot help but wonder why she is going with them and why she specifically asked for their group. He hopes it has nothing to do with his own background.

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 Clara’s 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 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