Cover image of “Psych Ward Chronicles” by True George
Disclaimer: Author True George periodically comments on my blog and asked me to review his book Psych Ward Chronicles.
It’s only about fifty pages long and I read a version in PDF format. The book was originally a series of observational notes George took during his time as an intern at a New York City inpatient mental institution. It’s state run, and George covers chapters on topics such as “Side Effects,” “Liaisons,” “Readmitted,” “Race Card,” and “Accusations.”
My first observation is that the book needed a lot of editing. This happens sometimes when you self publish and you’re going over your own stuff without a second pair of eyes.
The second observation is that it was rather dry. I did something I almost never do when I’m preparing to review a book. I asked George additional questions about it after I read it. I wanted to be clear about the intent.
Cover art for Dan Simmons’ 1989 novel “Hyperion”
I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dan Simmons or his award winning 1989 novel Hyperion until both were mentioned on Mike Glyer’s File 770. Actually, it was specifically the mention that he dared to insult the much vaunted teenage climate change icon Greta Thunberg. I agree that Simmons went kind of overboard on his twitter commentary, but attacking a teenager aside, criticizing Thunberg for any reason has become pretty much the worst thing you can do besides being a “denier.”
Anyway, I became interested in him and his novel, so I checked it out of my local public library and started reading. It wasn’t what I expected, but then again, I didn’t know what to expect.
Hyperion has been loosely compared to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories about seemingly unrelated people. I can kind of see that. Simmons, a former teacher, spared no effort in shoving tons and tons of literary references, many of them aimed right at Keats, into his stories. I’m sure many of them sailed way over my head. I don’t think they added much to the novel.
Cover art for the anthology “The Collapsar Directive
Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this anthology on the condition that I would write and publish a review. I have also had a short story and a piece of flash fiction published by Zombie Pirate Publishing, but none of my stories appear in the anthology I am reviewing, The Collapsar Directive.
Actually, the anthology’s title is taken from a story written by Adam Bennett, co-founder of Zombie Pirates, called “The Sword and The Damocles,” a tale about two interconnected intergalactic spacecraft. Like many of the short stories in the anthology, I found it to be “okay,” but not particularly remarkable. Of course “Collapsar” was published a few years back, and I know that many of the authors have since honed their writing skills.
Mel Newmin’s “Looking at the Face of God” had a nice twist to it, but I objected to the idea of releasing zoo animals back to the wild, since animals kept in captivity often lose their ability to fend for themselves in an untamed environment. Once the big reveal occurs, the results become interesting, but then science fiction does sometimes have the created confront their creator.
Cover image for Neal Asher’s novel “War Factory”
Disclosure: My short story “Joey” appears in the Zombie Pirate Publishing science fiction anthology World War Four. It also features Neal Asher’s novelette Monitor Logan.
Neal Asher’s War Factory is the sequel to his novel Dark Intelligence and the second in his “Transformations” trilogy.
We continue to follow the travails of a plethora of characters, human, Prador, AI, and other, all orchestrated by the dark AI Penny Royal, who has mysterious motivations for manipulating lives and even entire regimes.
Asher remains a top author in the crafting of space operas, interweaving a large cast of players on his interstellar stage, this time upping the game. Penny Royal leads herself, the assassin droid Riss, and Thorvald Spear on a journey to rediscover their beginnings, which for the mechanized members, is a massive space station. “Room 101” was a sapient intelligence who felt a maternal instinct toward her martial creations, and who, when on the verge of destruction, did the unthinkable.
Cover of Weird Tales magazine 1935
Shadows in Zamboula is a classic Robert E. Howard tale of Conan the Barbarian. I read it to get my head in the right space for crafting a “Sword and Sorcery” short story, and I wasn’t disappointed. Howard’s Conan is the best version of the character ever, even after eighty or so years.
The tale was first published in 1935, and I accessed it as a free eBook through The Gutenberg Project (yes, the original cover of “Weird Tales” in which the story appeared is provocative by today’s standards).
Howard’s popular barbarian is lured into trouble once again by a beautiful woman, that is after being nearly captured and consumed by cannibals. His adversaries are black Africans (as we’d understand them today), and relative to the mid-1930s, the description of them might be considered racist (in the 21st century). That aside, the story is high adventure all the way. The swordplay is at its finest, and at the end, Conan outsmarts as well as outfights both his enemies and his supposed allies.
I read The Dunwich Horror by H.P Lovecraft as inspiration for a story I have been crafting. I’ve read Lovecraft before, but that was decades ago, so I expected the unexpected from this expedition into his classic horror.
Since the story is old (1928) and beyond its copyright, I looked for it at The Gutenberg Project and found a file I could download onto my Kindle Fire. Books with expired U.S. copyrights can be optioned for absolutely free, so you don’t want to pass up this magnificent opportunity.
Cover art for the 1978 novel “SS-GB”
Disclosure: I checked the hardback copy of this novel out from the public library.
Just finished Len Deighton’s 1978 alternative history novel SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain 1941. I recall reading it decades ago, but remembered almost none of the content.
This isn’t actually science fiction, just a sort of “What if Nazi Germany won World War 2 and occupied Great Britain?” The tale centers around Scotland Yard Inspector Douglas Archer, a well-educated man who is fluent in German and works with the SS who have headed up Britain’s police agencies. He seems to get along with his superiors, unlike his partner, Sgt Detective Harry Woods, and many other of the nation’s beleaguered citizens, who chafe at the occupation.
While investigating was started out as a murder, Archer is plunged into a world of political intrigue, conspiracy, and assassination. It only gets worse when SS Standertenfuhrer Huth arrives from Berlin to supervise the investigation. Only then, does he learn the Germany’s secret atomic weapons development project is headquartered in Britain, and the dead man was a nuclear scientist. He also falls into a plot to free the King of England from imprisonment and clandestinely transport him to America, which has remained carefully neutral during the war.
Promotional cover image of Seth Patrick’s 2013 novel “Reviver.” Note: Not the original cover or title.
I probably wouldn’t even have read Seth Patrick’s novel Reviver (2013), but I noticed on the back cover a small review by SF author Neal Asher. I’m familiar with Asher’s work and even share the Table of Contents with him in a recent SciFi anthology, so naturally I was intrigued.
A few weeks back, I was at the local branch of my little public library, and although I was already reading two books, found myself stuck there with my books and my beloved laptop still at home. So I started wandering the stacks. This library is small enough not to differentiate between general fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, so they are all intermixed. I was randomly strolling through, occasionally picking up and reading the summaries of various novels, when I happened upon “Reviver” and noticed Asher’s name on the back cover. I figured, what the heck.
This is Seth Patrick’s very first novel, and I can only imagine he went through quite a few iterations before he arrived at the final product I consumed. It was a terrific mix of horror, mystery, and a hint of speculative fiction. I know there are purists who detest that sort of thing, but I never was one for the extreme blood, guts, and gore of modern horror. Yes, there is graphic imagery in the novel, but nothing I couldn’t handle, and the psychological horror totally hooked me.
Cover art for William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer
I imagine that I’m supposed to feel guilty about reading “old” science fiction. After all, William Gibson’s inaugural SciFi novel Neuromancer is 35 years old and, according to one commentator at File 770 when criticizing award-winning science fiction writer and legend Robert Silverberg‘s criticism of award-winning science fiction author N.K. Jemisin, one of Silverberg’s many faults was that he hasn’t read any science fiction created within the past decade. Gee, I hope I’m not ruffling anyone’s feathers by going “old school.” On the other hand, the book did win a Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo, so there is that.
Gibson’s “Neuromancer” probably launched the cyberpunk genre, and although some of the references are older (television, pay phones), it’s held up very well. Today, science fiction publications are loaded with references to artificial intelligence (AI) but in the 1980s, it must have been a rarity, although I’ll never know why everyone assumes a programmed, non-human intelligence must presuppose a personality or even intent.
Cover image for Gregory Benford’s novel “The Berlin Project.”
Just finished reading The Berlin Project, a novel by physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford, and it was fabulous. Really top-notch alternate history, which was given enormous depth by the fact that Benford has met many of the people who were involved in the Manhattan Project during World War Two. His father-in-law is Karl Cohen, who is the book’s protagonist and in real life actually was a chemist on the project.
The novel’s premise is that at the Manhattan Project’s beginning, America’s secret effort to produce the Atomic Bomb, Cohen develops an alternate and faster method of producing weapons grade uranium for “the bomb,” allowing us to make a nuclear weapon in time for D-Day.
Not only are the technical details amazingly accurate, but the characterizations of the people involved, particularly Cohen and his family, are absolutely credible and “real.” Small wonder, since by marriage, they are Benford’s family, too.
As I imagine like most readers, I thought the climax of the book would be dropping the bomb on Berlin in 1944, killing Hitler and ending the war, but I was wrong. True, that was a pivotal moment about three-quarters of the way through, but it was the aftermath to that event that made all of the difference in changing the shape of alternate history going forward.