Review: Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny

Review:

everything-belongs-to-the-future

For me, science fiction is at its best when it tells an allegorical story reflecting on issues of the present day, and this is what makes Laurie Penny’s Everything Belongs To The Future such a strong work.

In 2098, scientists have created a Fountain of Youth in a little blue pill. This creates a gerotocracy that only further divides the haves from the have-nots, as the pill is marketed to the rich, and priced so only the wealthy have access. A small group of idealistic youths with aspirations of political revolution attempt to undermine this disparity and create a modified version of the drug, appropriately named a Time Bomb, to undermine the quest for longevity.

A writer on social justice, feminism, and gender issues, journalist Laurie Penny brings all of these topics to bear in her science fiction debut (Penny has written several non-fiction titles, including 2014’s Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution). Her vision of England at the turn of the next century is highly recognizable, but subtly shaded with the repercussions of present-day issues (certain segments of England, for instance, are underwater thanks to many of our Old White Man politicians ignoring climate change and its now-unstoppable effects on future generations). There’s plenty of justifiable anger simmering in this book’s plot, as well, and while the character’s motives are nicely gray their final solution is anything but.

Everything Belongs To The Future is richly political and frighteningly dark, but there’s also a certain honesty to it’s ‘what if’ nature that I appreciate. It’s better to have a bitter truth than a comforting lie, in my opinion, and this title certainly hits on several unsavory truths about mankind, ambition, and greed.

[I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny

Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Review:

hammers-on-bone

With Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw gives an old-school PI story a cool Lovecraftian update. There’s plenty of old-school gumshoe narration (although the story is firmly present-day), along with a heaping dose of ancient gods and gritty mysticism. If this turns out to be the first in a series it is one I’ll happily return to.

PI Joe Persons takes on what should be a simple job from an eleven-year-old client: kill the boy’s abusive step-father, McKinsey. The appropriately-named Persons (you’ll find out why!), naturally, gets more than he bargains for. McKinsey is a meat-suit for something ancient, see, and Persons is being warned off the case by some dame, but he’s a dog with a bone now and serious things are afoot, see?

Mostly, I dug the heck out of Hammers on Bone and the way Khaw played with classic private eye tropes in a way that felt fresh with its sleek infusion of horror. Khaw has a terrific voice and can turn a phrase rather nicely, and her writing and cool style have me eager to check out her other stories, notably Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, but also whatever else she publishes along the way. Joe Person’s is a neatly complicated sort, for multiple reasons that I should not actually discuss, and the climax was solidly creepy, gross, and violent. And, jeez, check out that cover illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love – it’s beautiful and speaks wonderfully toward the story within.

My only real complaint concerns the novella’s brevity. There’s a lot of story brewing under the surface of Persons narration that, since this is first person point of view, neither he nor readers are privy to. Khaw nails the sense of epic scope surrounding Persons’ case, and I wanted more. By book’s end, the plot grew a bit muddied and obscured with some last-minute dangling threads – but, again, if this turns out to not be a standalone title, this niggling detail could resolve itself. Given the nature of Persons and Khaw’s impressive writing, I’m certainly game for more and she’s definitely an author to watch out for.

[I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review:

thewarren-brian-evenson

Although The Warren is short – less than a hundred pages and compelling enough to read in a single sitting – I needed some time to digest its content and figure out what I wanted to say about it. Ultimately, I think the less said about it the better. (And I do mean this in all seriousness, and in the best way possible.)

I went into this book blind, knowing very little about it other than it had a snazzy cover and was another release in Tor’s strong line of novellas. I think this is about all you should know about it, as well. It’s a good, twisty read and you should probably check it out so long as you can stand not having everything perfectly resolved and all questions neatly answered.

Not enough? OK, fine. Imagine taking some science fiction heavy weights, like Blade Runner and The Martian and tossing them in a heavy-duty blender with Memento for added flavor. The Warren, however, is far from simply a pastiche of these other works, even if I found their influences to be strong. What you end up with, though, is a short work that calls into question the nature of self and self-perception with an utterly unreliable narrator in what is, basically, a locked-room drama.

This warped and fairly grim narrative cares not a whit about delivering the goods in a linear fashion, so readers should go in with scrutinizing eyes and pay keen attention to the details. Brian Evenson raises a lot of questions within his story, most of which are either answered ambiguously at best, or left to the reader to suss out the clues. I enjoyed connecting the various puzzle pieces presented in The Warren, and I suspect that a second read-through would be both deeply rewarding and quite different than the initial journey. This is certainly a story that demands a focused reading, and the closer you inspect Evenson’s writing the more satisfying it becomes.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review: The Cupid Reconciliation (Genrenauts Episode 3) by Michael R. Underwood

Genrenauts-3-The-Cupid-Reconciliation

Wounded Genrenaut Mallery is back in action in Episode 3, following her injuries in the opening of episode one, The Shootout Solution – and just in time for a trip to Romance World! On Earth Prime, divorce rates are skyrocketing and people are canceling their dating site subscriptions en masse, which can only mean there’s trouble in Rom-Com region. Angstrom King and his crew must fix another broken story by finding and reuniting star-crossed lovers led astray.

I’m not normally a big fan of romantic comedies. I don’t hate them, mind you, but rom-coms, and usually comedies in general, frankly, are not typically the genre I turn to when in need of entertainment. I’ll watch them now and then, but usually only if there’s something really appealing beyond the typical meet-cute stuff. And, if you’ve been following my reviews for any length of time, you’ll probably have noticed that romance is not really my read of choice, either.

But, I knew and expected certain things about Michael R. Underwood’s journey to Romance World in advance. For one thing, this is the latest episode in his Genrenauts novella series, so skipping it was not an option. I knew there would be some in-story relevance to this episode, and after only a few prior stories I’m already hooked on these characters and want to see how they operate in as many wide-ranging genre worlds as possible. So, despite Romance not being my typical go-to, I was still keen to check it out simply to get another Genrenauts fix.

Turns out, I kinda loved this story. I loved the way the effects of a broken story in Romance World ripple out toward Earth Prime. I loved the way Underwood plays with typical Rom-Com tropes and uses and subverts those tropes with a sly wink-and-a-nudge to craft his action sequences. There’s a certain spy element to this story; it’s subtle and not lavishly done, but I really appreciated the minor way the Genrenauts team have to sort of espionage their way into matchmaking this world’s repair. And I really liked the way the story world responded to their efforts. It’s just all around fun, and a classy little story to boot.

Best of all, though, is the character development. This is really the first episode that we’ve seen Mallery in action, and she’s pretty damn cool, and fun to hang with. We also get plenty of character development for Leah Tang, who has been our window into these worlds since King recruited her in the series opener to fill the void while Mallery recuperated. There’s a lot of meat to Leah’s role here, from worrying about what Mallery’s return means for her place on the team, to her moral compass and willingness to question the methods and motives of her fellow Genrenauts.

As with the previous episodes, the bottom line here is on sheer enjoyability. I found myself glued to my Kindle with this one. It’s a quick, breezy read, but one that I was quickly captivated by thanks to the cast and the growth in both character and over-arching plot development. And, as usual with this series, by the time I finished this episode, I found myself hankering for another fix and ready to dive into episode 4.

With the Genrenauts series, Underwood has crafted a wonderfully delightful series of novellas using the episodic structure of a TV show to tell his tale. This makes for a perfect bit of binge-reading, one that reminds of me shows I loved as a kid like Quantum Leap and the early seasons of Sliders. Think of it as Netflix for the mind.

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Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author for review. The Cupid Reconciliation releases on May 31, 2016.

In the meantime, Michael R. Underwood is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection. Since I’m a fan of this series, backing his campaign was a no-brainer for me. If you’d enjoyed this review or have read the previous installments, I heartily encourage you to check out his Kickstarter for the omnibus and, if possible, chip in. For only $10 you can get the entire Season One collection in your choice of digital format – as released by Tor, each individual episode has cost $2.99. As a collection of six novella-length episodes, you’re saving about half by becoming a backer. Or you can get the book in print, as well, for a little extra. Money well spent, I think.

Review: The Cupid Reconciliation (Genrenauts Episode 3) by Michael R. Underwood

Review: A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon

Review:

Whisper_Final

Although I was not a big fan of Lebbon’s previous two installments in his Assassin’s series — “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Pieces of Hate,” collected together in the recent Tor novella, Pieces of Hate (reviewed here) there were enough interesting ideas in Pieces of Hate to keep me curious enough to see what comes next. Maybe it was because I had enough of the background story, or perhaps because I went in expecting there to be zilch in the way of resolution regarding Gabriel and his battles against the entity known as Temple, but I found A Whisper of Southern Lights to be much more satisfying.

Gabriel and Temple are basically immortals, and their personal battles have allowed Lebbon to play in some interesting settings. We’ve gotten a weird western and a bit of high seas pirating adventure, and now Lebbon takes us to Singapore circa World War II (personal note: Lebbon teases an Antarctic expedition as another setting in their worldwide struggles through time, and I’d pay good money to read that story, because I’m just a sucker for stories set in that region). Both Gabriel and Temple are hunting for a man named Jack Sykes, which never bodes well for the dude unwittingly falling into the middle of their bloody, violence-fueled triangles.

I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful vacation in Singapore a while ago, so I had no trouble imagining the sweaty treks through the rain forest, and war-time is always an interesting period to explore some supernatural shenanigans. I dug those elements the most here. I fell in love almost immediately with Singapore, and hope to go back one of these day. Books set in this region at least provide enough of a mental sojourn until I can physically head there again. It’s also a bit of a reminder that I need to seek out more Singaporean literature… Yeah, I know, I’m digressing here.

A Whisper of Southern Lights is a short novella, which makes for a brisk read. Lebbon gives us enough sketches of life on the front lines in the Pacific Theater, but I wouldn’t have minded more details. Gabriel’s relationship with Temple has always been one of the strongest elements of this series, and that remains true here, as well. The ending felt a little bit rushed, but there’s a marvelously macabre display where our characters confront one another before the requisite cliffhanger.

Yeah, another cliffhanger and little in the way of resolution. The last line of the book, though, does actually have me antsy for another entry, so kudos to the author! I feel much more invested in this series after this particular entry than I did with Pieces of Hate.

[Note: I received an advanced review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: A Whisper of Southern Lights by Tim Lebbon

Review: Husk by Rachel Autumn Deering

Review:

Husk

Rachel Autumn Deering has worn various hats in the comic book side of literature, and makes her prose debut with Husk. Based on the strength of this novella, I’d say that’s a pretty smart move and I’m hoping to see more works in this vein from her soon.

Husk is a psychological horror story with some well-sketched characters. Kevin is a war veteran, recently home from Afghanistan and undergoing treatment for PTSD until the VA cuts off his disability checks. They claim he is addicted to the pills they have prescribed him to treat his clinical depression. Kevin doesn’t truck well with being told he’s a drug addict and goes cold turkey on the meds. Maybe not the best idea ever.

Deering gives us a terrific look at how Kevin copes with PTSD, or doesn’t in some cases. He’s still plenty shell-shocked, and the tension is only heightened further when something strange begins lurking around his farmhouse, stalking him in the night and threatening his new-found love interest.

This is a work of horror where the people come first and foremost, and Deering takes her time making Kevin and Samantha real, devoting plenty of time to developing their burgeoning relationship.

If I have to pick nits, it’s going to be with some of the dialogue and a few technical issues on the writing side. Some it feels a bit too much on the nose, particularly Kevin’s rant early in the book when he rails against the VA and his doctor. There’s also some wicked POV shifts that took me off guard, where we’re with Kevin and then suddenly being told about what’s happening inside the neighbor’s home, which he could have no knowledge of. These are certainly issues that can be ironed out over time, and aren’t exactly surprising to see in a first-time prose author. None of these issues break the story though, nor did they detract from my enjoyment of the work.

And besides, that ending…oomph. Nicely done, that.

 

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Review: Husk by Rachel Autumn Deering

Review: The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner

Review:

winter_box

I suspect that anyone who has been married for some length or in a long-term relationship will find plenty to relate to, perhaps uncomfortably so, in Tim Waggoner’s latest novella, The Winter Box.

Waggoner does a beautiful job of taking a twenty-plus year long marriage and casting it at the center of a ghost story. After so long together, Todd and Heather’s union has hit a snag. Neither will speak the dreaded D-word, even if both think it, and Todd oftentimes finds himself deliberately putting distance, both physically and emotionally, between he and his wife. Stuck in a cabin during a blizzard, the two are forced to admit the emotions they’ve kept buried and examine the deep wounds running beneath the scars they’ve bandaged over in all their years together.

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for horror stories that put weather extremes, particularly the blustery snow-driven cold, smack dab in the middle of the narrative. There’s just something about the winter freeze and thick, icy haze that lends itself particularly well to horror, and I’m a big fan of these types of stories. Even more so when, as Waggoner capably demonstrates, these freaky storms help to thematically echo the human plight.

Todd wants to escape, but can’t. The marriage, on the eve of their anniversary, is as cold and barren as the wintry landscape confining them to their cabin. These are people who want but can’t have, even if neither quite knows what it is that they want or how to obtain it.

And then the ghosts. Oh yeah, the ghosts. There’s an extra bit of fun right there, and Waggoner does just as well making that element as inhospitable and challenging for the couple as he does the elemental conditions they’re stuck in. For such a short read at only 50 pages or so, Waggoner packs in a lot of story, and this is a read that just sails by nicely. Or, you know, not so nicely as it were. Marriage is a hard enough job to maintain and survive, and to do so in the worst of conditions…good luck!

I haven’t read much of Waggoner’s work, but every time I finish one of his stories I’m always left wanting to buy more of his work. The Winter Box is a great reminder of why that is.

[Note: I received a copy of this novella from the DarkFuse Book Club.]

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Review: The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner