Monthly Archives: February 2014

Book of Apex Blog Tour: Guest Post by Tim Susman

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Last week, I reviewed The Book of Apex, Volume 4.

Today, as part of the Apex of Blog Book Tour, I have a guest post by one of the authors represented in the collection, Tim Susman. Tim wrote one of the most intriguing stories in the collection, “Erzulie Dantor” and in this post, he talks about some of his process behind penning this particular story. And the good news is that if you haven’t yet read the story, you can check it out for FREE!

Orders of Magnitude

In the last year, I wrote a couple thousand-word flash fictions, a few 10K-word short stories, and two hundred-thousand word novels. If pressed, I would probably say I enjoy novels the most. There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a long project, and of all the things I’ve written, the novels are the ones that have the most permanence. Still, I enjoy getting a flash-fic-sized idea, something I can write and hone in a couple days, something that gets a point across and then goes away; a short story can be an enticing visit to a world. In ten thousand words (technically a novelette, though I did write several short stories as well), you can introduce a world and a character and a problem and see the problem through to its resolution.

The way I approach each of these is necessarily different, and it doesn’t start the way you might think. When I have the idea for a story, usually the length is encoded in the idea. For the recent series of flash fics inspired by James Bond movie theme song titles (yes, that’s a thing), I tried to write the flash fics as spontaneously as possible, and that meant that I had to search for a flash-fic length idea. Sometimes they grew a little long—“Goldeneye” I think could be a bigger story if I wanted to expand it—but sometimes they ended up being neat little “what if” vignettes.

One of the dangers with flash fic is the allure of the “gotcha” ending. “‘My name is Jesus,’ the alien said.”—you know the kind of story. It’s a particularly tough ending to pull off in flash fiction because a twist ending depends on the reader having an investment in or expectation of the story, and a thousand words is often not enough to build up enough to make the twist worthwhile. What’s more, people are used to shorter pieces having twist endings, so if you telegraph that it’s a twist story, people will often outguess you, and then the story loses its punch. Of course, it could also be that I’m just not good at twist endings.

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Review: Doctor Who: Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.

After reading Stephen Baxter’s Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn’t sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds’ The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.

Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of “The Sea Devils” and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.

Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor’s tenure — assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it’s clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels — tie-in or otherwise — that I’ve read this year.

It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds’ non-Who offerings.

Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who’d love a chance to read it.

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Review: Star Trek: Allegiance in Exile by David R. George II

Allegiance in Exile

Lately I’ve been revisiting the Star Trek universe via a combination of DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming video as well as listening to the great Mission Log podcast.

All of that, plus reading a few heavier books (both in terms of content and page count) put me in the mood for a light, fun palate cleanser tie-in novel. And so it was that after a year of languishing on my to-be-read pile, I finally decided it was time to give David R. George III’s Allegiance in Exile a look.

Set in the final year of the original five year mission, the novel finds Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise discovering an apparently deserted planet that holds a deadly cache of self-defense weapons. After the ship and landing party are attacked (including the destruction of a shuttle or two), Kirk and company discover a way to detect and disable the installations.

While Kirk struggles with what the future could hold and the next step in his career (he’s not ready to leave the bridge of the Enterprise just yet), Sulu meets and falls for a member of the crew, who was part of the landing party with him. Of course, this can only mean one thing — the crew member in question’s life span is reduced to about twenty or so minute (or in this case about 100 pages).
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Review: The Book of Apex, Volume 4 of Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00012]To paraphrase a famous quote from Forrest Gump, short story collections are like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get.

That’s the great thing about a collection of short stories — if you come across a story you don’t care for you, there’s generally another chance (or five) that the next story or a story later in the collection will be more your speed or taste.  Since the start of 2014, I’ve immersed myself into two short story collections — one that had been languishing on my to-be-read shelf for far too long and the other as part of the Book of Apex, Volume 4 Blog Tour.

Thanks to the hard work of Andrea from The The Little Red Reviewer, I was given access to a digital copy of this short story collection.   The collection covers the best of fifteen or so issues from the on-line Book of Apex and is edited by Lynne M. Thomas. The stories selected here represent the cream of the crop from her first several issues editing the magazine and they run the gamut from sci-fi to fantasy to horror.   Given that I enjoy each of these three genres and that I recognized several of the names included in this collection, I was eager to sit back and enjoy the stories.

Stories run from a couple of pages (or in my case, clicks on the Kindle screen) to close to novella length.   The varying length of each story makes the collection an intriguing one.  Among my favorite stories from the collection were:

“The 24 Hour Brother” by Christopher Barzak — In a way, this reminded me of the story of Benjamin Button, only with a slight twist. What if you had a sibling who was born, grew up and passed away in a day. That’s the premise of this one and there were a couple of details that stuck out for me — one is that at one point the brother eats dinner with the family and then casually watches a police drama on television. This made me ponder that if I were to live for a day, what is the one show or single episode of a show I’d most want to watch or have shown to me. Of all the stories in this collection, this one has kept me coming back to it and turning it over in my mind long after I’ve read all the others.

“Blood from Stone” by Alethea Kontis — I may be biased toward this one a bit since I met Ms. Kontis once at a book club meeting (she probably doesn’t remember it). So I feel a bit like I’m supporting a friend by picking up her books or reading one of her short stories. Luckily, I’ve yet to be disappointed by her writing, though this is one is a nice change of pace from what I’ve previously read. But like her fantasy novels that put a contemporary spin on a classic story, so does this one put an interesting spin on the horror story. I can’t say too much without giving away some of the fun twists and turns of the story. Trust me — seek it out and read it. You’ll probably like it.

“Erzulie Dantor” by Tim Susman — The good thing about a short story collection is you can read them in any order you want. I’ll admit I read this one first, not because I’m familiar with Mr. Susman’s work but because of a guest post that will appear on this site later this week. Susman’s story is one of the more intriguing of the lot, a bit of an examination of mythology of another culture and its practices.  An intriguing little story that I’m glad I read first in the collection.  Another favorite.

“Winter Scheming” by Brit Mandalo — This was particularily interesting to read around Valentine’s Day.  Brit is haunted by a past relationship and, well, if I say more I might give away some of the fun of this one.    The thing with short stories is that it’s far too easy to give away too many details and possibly ruin some of the fun of reading them for yourself. I am trying not to do that.

These four stories were my favorites from the collection and have made me curious to see what other treats Apex Magazine will offer in the future.  The good news is that if you’re intrigued by any of my reviews, you can easily follow the link above and read the original stories for free on their site.   And after you do, I recommend that purchase this entire collection and put it on your e-reader.   I’m glad I did and I think you’ll be glad you did as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was given a digital review copy of this collection in exchange for an honest reviews.

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Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Many young adult novels create worlds in which young people are forced to grow up too quickly or often have more sense than the adults in their lives.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s “The Impossible Knife of Memory” could easily be placed in that category, except for one thing. Her utterly relatable and authentic characters who inhabit the pages of her novel.

Hayley Kincaid and her father have spent the last several years on the road — he working as a truck driver and she accompanying him. Her father is haunted by his time spent in the service and the road helps him keep one step ahead on the demons — or at least the consequences from his being haunted. When her father decides it’s time to settle back down in the town he grew up, things quickly began to unravel for Haley. Haley blames her father’s ex-girlfriend for certain things that have happened and has a difficult time fitting it at school because she’s forced to not only care for herself but also to care for her father.

That doesn’t stop her from attracting the attention of a quirky boy in her classes and the two starting a reluctant friendship that deepens into something more.

Anderson infuses Haley and the characters in her world with a sense of utter authenticity. Anderson also doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the up-hill battle Haley faces and the consequences of it. The novel is utterly compelling, readable and, at times, moving. You won’t always love or hate any of these characters but Anderson does a nice job of helping us understand what drives and haunts them.

Anderson wisely doesn’t wrap up everything with a tidy bow at the end. She does give us some closure in the novel and hope for the future, but she still leaves some things up to the reader to fill in the blanks,

Anderson’s young adult novels are among the cream of the crop — and this one is another example of why.

I received an ARC of this novel from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

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Booking Through Thursday: Snow Day

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For most of the east coast, at least, it’s a wintry, snowy day today, so … How do you like to spend your snow days? Feel free to gloss over the obligatory parts like shoveling unless you LIKE it. We’re talking ideal, best way to spend a snow day kind of thoughts, here.

For those of you who live in places where snow days simply don’t happen? Feel free to substitute “snow” with “rain” and think about the kind of days when you just want to cuddle up inside where it’s warm and dry.

Since my favorite way to experience snow is looking at friends’ picture of it on Facebook, I may not be the most ideal person to answer this one.  But I’ll try….

A couple of ways to enjoy a snow day would include a good nap, having time to finish a book I’m reading or possibly starting one of the to-be-read pile, clearing off a few shows on the DVR or watching a movie I’ve been meaning to get around to watching.

 

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Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman (The Last Policeman, #1)

If the world were going to end in six months, how would you react?

Would you start crossing items off your bucket list? Or would you try and connect with a higher power? Or would you continue on in your chosen career, finally able to move up because a lot of other people had taken the first two options?

Detective Hank Palace is taking that third option, finally getting ahead in his police career because everyone else above him took another path. He’s a detective by default and while he’s good at his job, there’s not really a lot of pressure to solve many cases. For many, being caught and locked up for a crime is a death sentence since, again, the world is going to end in six months when the Earth collides with a giant asteroid.

The sense of impending doom has also led a lot of people to take an early exit on this life. When Hank is called in on an apparent suicide, he begins to suspect the set-up may look too much like a suicide and may actually be a cover-up for murder.

Ben H. Winter’s The Last Policeman is a fascinating combination of a gritty, noir mystery and an end-of-the-world sci-fi thriller. Winter drops us into the world of Hank Palace and allows us to live in it along with him — seeing a variety of responses to the end of the world coming and there being little, if anything, that can be done to stop it. (There’s no Bruce Willis here to jump on a shuttle and take out the asteroid before it collides).

It’s the world-building that sets the first two-thirds of this novel apart from other noir mystery novels. But it’s the last third that offers up clues as to something more going on and also that drag down the novel a bit. The central mystery works well enough and is nicely resolved, but there’s something in the novel’s final third that seems a bit off from what we’ve read until then. And while I understand that we can’t exactly root for a last-second miracle and that the world-view of this novel is a bleak one, I still felt something was missing from the last third of the novel that kept a good book from being a great one.

Interestingly, my local community has chosen this novel as it’s “community read” for 2014. Certainly some of the ideas and questions raised by the novel — just how would you deal with the end of the world coming? — are intriguing ones. One idea that Winters puts forward is how everyday things would shut down or quickly become a luxury or a memory. For example, McDonald’s are shut down but there are local squatters who take over the local franchise and keep things going even if you’re not technically eating the famous fries and a Big Mac. There’s also the question of quantities of certain items slowly beginning to dwindle down as the supply chain is interrupted or else suspended entirely.

All of these are interesting issues and ideas. And yet it never feels like Winters is bringing the central mystery to a halt to have Palace spend a paragraph or two thinking back to the good ol’ days.

And while I wasn’t a huge fan of how it ended, I was still intrigued enough by Palace and his world to want to pick up the next installment in this proposed trilogy and see what happens next.

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