Thursday, May 28, 2020

A gritty sci-fi thriller: Review of 'Dust and Lightning' by Rebecca Crunden

Title: Dust and Lightning
Author: Rebecca Crunden
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 121

What Goodreads has to say:

In the near future, humans have gone beyond simple space travel. By the year 4054, multiple solar systems are inhabited, and taking a spaceship is as commonplace as taking an aeroplane.

Unfortunately, not everything about the future is so advanced. The central planets, led by Earth, have risen high at the expense of cheap labour on distant worlds. Dissent is widespread and arrests are common. Sometimes prisoners are released; sometimes they disappear without a trace, sent to labour camps in other solar systems.

When Ames Emerys receives a letter telling him that his brother Callum has died en route to the remote planet of Kilnin, he takes the first ship he can off Earth, desperate for answers. But the secrets Ames uncovers prove far more dangerous than he could have imagined.

And trouble isn’t far behind. 

What I have to say:

Dust and Lightning was a fun read that kept me engaged and guessing right up to the end. The characters are sympathetic, the settings exciting, and the action non-stop. 

From the very first sentence, I was intrigued. A man stands on a platform waiting for a space shuttle to arrive. But he's a mysterious figure and it's obvious he's on his guard. He's ready to spring up and run at the first sight of danger--and he fully expects danger to follow him.

The man's name is Ames Emerys, and it turns out he's searching for his missing brother--someone who wouldn't hurt a fly but has somehow got on the tyrannical government's bad side and been arrested, deported, then declared dead. 

Aboard the space shuttle, Ames meets Violet--a lawyer who's surprisingly eager to stick it to the government and join him on a quest that will take them to unforgiving climates and strictly off-limit prisons. In other words, she's boss.

I really enjoyed the action and the world-building of this story. The pacing was relentless in a good way: hardly were the heroes out of one scrape when they found themselves in another, and every time they thought they were safe, government agents would descend on them again. 

There are also some cool sci-fi concepts in this story. Without giving any spoilers, I'll just say I'm definitely a fan of Stranger Things vibes. 

Having said all that, I'm handing out three trees for this story that was well-written and well-paced, but maybe could use a little more fleshing out and polishing. Or, it could just be that I tend to steer clear of stories this gritty and gory, and/or that at this point I'm just a little tired of futuristic dystopian stories that all feel like they run along the same basic plot lines. That's not a reflection on the author, it's just a matter of taste. (And to be fair, I was warned in advance about the gore and it really wasn't that terrible.)

Regardless, Dust and Lightning is a fun, action-packed read that I think fans of gritty sci-fi thrillers will appreciate.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Spellbinding short stories in 'Voyagers: The Third Ghost'

Title: Voyagers: The Third Ghost
Louise MacBeath Barbour 
Roland Clarke 
Bish Denham 
Rebecca M. Douglass
Sherry Ellis 
Katharina Gerlach 
Charles Kowalski 
Beth Anderson Schuck
Yvonne Ventresca
L.T. Ward
Genre: Short stories (historical fiction, fantasy, mystery)
Pages: 168 

What Goodreads has to say:

Journey into the past…

Will the third ghost be found before fires take more lives? Can everyone be warned before Pompeii is buried again? What happens if a blizzard traps a family in East Germany? Will the Firebird help Soviet sisters outwit evil during WWII? And sneaking off to see the first aeroplane – what could go wrong?

Ten authors explore the past, sending their young protagonists on harrowing adventures. Featuring the talents of Yvonne Ventresca, Katharina Gerlach, Roland Clarke, Sherry Ellis, Rebecca M. Douglass, Bish Denham, Charles Kowalski, Louise MacBeath Barbour, Beth Anderson Schuck, and L.T. Ward.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents, authors, and editors, these ten tales will take readers on a voyage of wonder into history. Get ready for an exciting ride!

What I have to say:

What do slave ships, ghosts, time travel, Pompeii, WWII, aeroplanes, and the Iron Curtain have in common? 

They all appear in this absolutely fantastic collection of short stories by the Insecure Writer's Support Group. 

"Voyagers" is an appropriate title for this collection, since most of the stories involve a journey of some kind. A journey across the sea. A journey across the border. A journey back in time. A journey to the afterlife.

But they're not just physical journeys. These are journeys away from innocence, away from safety, toward understanding, toward acceptance, toward redemption.

The genres vary, but for the most part these are works of historical fiction. Thus, there's a story about a young boy traveling aboard a slave ship to meet his father, a story about a Ukrainian girl whose sister flies with the Night Witches (an all-female bomber regiment in WWII), and a story about a family who tries to cross the Iron Curtain to spend the holidays with family. 

But many of these stories have a little something else thrown in. Thus, there's a story about two travelers who encounter a Yamamba (a mythical Japanese creature) in the mountains, a story about a young orchardist who talks to trees, and a story about a boy in the 1980s who keeps seeing ghosts.

By turns intriguing, gripping, funny, and poignant--these are masterfully told stories by a first-rate group of writers. Their imaginative powers put me through the whole spectrum of emotions: 

  • Shivers ("The Third Ghost", "Simon Grey and The Yamamba")
  • Amusement ("The Ghosts of Pompeii," "Dare, Double Dare")
  • Horror ("The Blind Ship")
  • Awe ("Return to Cahokia")
  • Joy ("The Orchard")
  • Suspense ("A World of Trouble")
  • Tears ("Feathered Fire," "Winter Days")

A shout-out to those last two, which I found unexpectedly moving--especially "Feathered Fire." The story of a Ukrainian girl reunited with her sister, interwoven with the Russian legend of The Firebird, was absolutely beautiful and a masterclass in storytelling.

And I can't resist a final shout-out to "Return to Cahokia." This story of the Native American weather gods returning to their summer home was unique and powerful in its imagery. I enjoyed reveling in the vivid, richly woven world the author has created.

In short, this is a great collection of short pieces that are fun to read but lend themselves to pondering. A hearty round of applause to all the authors who contributed to this spellbinding tapestry of stories.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Bookish Hero - Anay Ayarovu's "STAZR The World of Z: The Dawn of Athir"

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Title: STAZR The World of Z: The Dawn of Athir
Series: STAZR The World of Z
Author: Dr. Anay Ayarovu
Publisher: Stazr
Published: February 2020

Goodreads Blurb: A strange and mystical prophecy was found in the city of Treebarad. On a piece of parchment, old long-forgotten events come back to life, the memory of which was intentionally erased. A mysterious prophecy now gives hope to the twisted ruling race that the power they seek lies behind an ancient gate. On the reverse side of the oracle are coordinates to the location of the Chosen One.

Lael is an introverted and naive writer who grew up with a book in one hand and a quill in the other. All his life, he has lived in a peaceful solitude, reading and writing his short stories and dreaming big of one day becoming a prestigious author. To his surprise and delight he must now become savior of the Stazr people and take the journey to find answers that do not exist in books.

My Thoughts: This book is a mix of high fantasy and science fiction. The lore is pretty heavy stuff and never fully explained, so prepare to be confused. Ayarovu reveals information just enough to give things names, but not enough for the reader to be able to give a full definition. In this way Stazr is as alien and backward for the reader as it would be for an actual human visitor. Even days, hours, minutes and seconds, as well as other numbers, have different names, which requires the reader to learn new words and phrases. In this way the story is quite immersive. Let's move on to the characters.

Lael is the main character and (arguably) hero of the story. I didn't like him. I don't think I was supposed to. He comes into a world he knows little about and imposes his philosophies and ideas on people and situations he has never lived through or experienced in any way, shape or form. He let's "destiny" sweep him along because he figures it will be good as a story later. He relies mostly on harsh logic and societal customs to make choices instead of feeling his way, or even reasoning. For example, he easily straight up and personally murders several people in order to fulfill a prophecy he knows little about and hardly believes in, because it makes him look good to the higher circle that he badly wants to impress. There is no effort to find a way around killing, and hardly any remorse after. This man is broken, and would fit better among robots than feeling creatures. He firmly believes "lesser creatures" (different races) were created only to serve his, and should have no other aspirations or desires than to meet every demand of a Great. Lael disgusted me.

Kharis didn't seem much better. While he seemed to dream of slight changes, he still hardly questioned any authority or societal rules even though he felt it was deeply wrong. Because of his very slight deviation from the norm he is cast out and severely punished. This society is ruled by old men (because apparently there are no women of their race??) who detest communication or compromise. There is clearly a reason they are dying out - any free thinkers are almost immediately done away with. Also disgusting.

I wasn't a huge fan of the characters, but the plot was fine until the last chapter when everything suddenly got super sexual. In a weird vision about the beginnings of their planet (I think?) Lael and another Great are witness to a human couple having sex in a forest, and then green monsters ripping limbs off of humans and raping a woman after tearing off her arm and leg, and then ripping off her jaw. Yuck. The strange sexual turn seemed fairly out of place with the rest of the story, and was fairly graphic. Double yuck. (yuck yuck). In the end I'm pretty sure Lael got his heart ripped out by a green monster, but is still oddly alive, and the group is off to make more terrible decisions.

A Note - I am fully aware that I am not the target audience for this book based on my reaction to it. My review and rating are a culmination of my character, ideals, and beliefs, and should not be seen as ill will toward any author or creator. I would've given this 2/5 trees, but because of the yucky sexual stuff at the end I'm dropping a tree.

Rating: 1/5 trees