Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Ceremony of Ashes - A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance by Jayson Robert Ducharme book cover. Image on the cover is of a silhoutte of someone holding a large staffTitle: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance

Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 135 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village
Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside down after receiving a disquieting phone call. His sister and niece have gone missing, and his mother is in shambles.
Something malicious is lurking in his old hometown. Children are going missing and their mothers are turning up dead. People are afraid to go out. Rumors spread from house to house. Blood. Ritual murder. Sacrifice and mutilation.
Sins of the past become unearthed. A woman, whose powers are beyond imagination, is soon to extract her vengeance on the entire town. She can make the dead talk, breathe fire, and turn a man into an animal.
Only Adrian and a young female constable know the truth. Only they can stop her.
CEREMONY OF ASHES is a 135 page novella about witchcraft, vengeance, and how our destinies are sometimes forged before we are even born.
Fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Nikolai Gogol are in for a treat with this fast-faced, violent and uncompromising novella of terror.

Review:

Content warning: blood, ritual murder, sacrifice, and mutilation. I will briefly discuss these things in my next paragraph but will not go into detail about them.

Many of the items in that list happened before or after new scenes occurred. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre for sure and did include some gory scenes, I was glad that so much of the rest of it was left up to the reader’s imagination.Filling in those moments for yourself can be so much scarier than having them all spelled out.

There’s more to Halloween than costumes and trick-or-treating in Leinster Village village this year.

Reading this novella was like eating a chocolate bar in the very best sense of that metaphor. I digested it quickly and enjoyed it for what it was without searching for a deeper meaning to it or anything like that. This was something that didn’t require analyzation or interpretation. It was simply a nice, scary distraction from everything going on the real world. Sometimes that’s exactly what a reader needs!

There were times when I had trouble keeping the dozens of characters straight. Some of them played pretty minor roles in the plot, so when they popped up again it often took me a while to remember who they were and how they might have been connected to the characters who were featured more prominently.

Small town life was captured nicely here. The characters I was able to keep good track of were connected to each other in multiple ways in many cases. I liked the way the many ways their lives overlapped was slowly revealed. It reminded me a lot of my own experiences living in small towns and how closely everyone’s lives end up intersecting regardless of whether they’re relatives of some sort or genetically unrelated to each other.

I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. While this was a heavily plot-driven tale and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be as introspective as something character-driven, it still would have been nice to get to know the main characters on a deeper level. They tended to be boxed into specific roles. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it happened so much in this particular story that I didn’t get to know the characters as individuals like I wanted to.

The witchcraft aspect was handled well. One thing I look for in speculative fiction books that include this topic is a sense that the author has put some thought into why they chose a witch as their antagonist. Rest assured there were excellent reasons for this decision that will be revealed later on in the storyline.

I’d recommend Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance to anyone who loves the dark side of the horror genre.

A Review of Terror Beneath Cactus Flats

Book cover for Seth Tucker's Terror Beneath Cactus Flats. Image on cover is of a desert with mountains in the backgroundTitle: Terror Beneath Cactus Flats (A Weird Western)

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 25, 2013

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Western

Length: 43 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Jed, the fresh faced deputy Marshall of Cactus Flats, finds himself put to the test as an unknown evil besieges the small town. In order to save the townsfolk, Jed will have to venture into the old abandoned mines and confront the evil awaiting within.

Content warning: Blood. I will not be discussing this in my review.

Some tags were left off of this post for spoiler reasons.

The west isn’t always as simple as it may seem to be.

There are so many things I want to say about the evil lurking in the abandoned mines, but I really need to leave those details up to you to discover for yourselves as brand new readers of this tale. This device works best when someone has no idea what Jed’s about to find or why it’s so dangerous. Honestly, that’s one of my favourite types of horror. There’s something even scarier than usual about wandering into a storyline with no idea of what is to come in it.

I would have liked to see more time spent on the world building. Mr. Tucker introduced some fascinating concepts, but they weren’t fleshed out like they could have been. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect a short story to include as much world building as a full-length novel, but there was a lot of room here to explain everything more clearly.

Jed was such a likeable guy. He was from a time and place that had strict rules governing everyone’s roles in society. Sometimes those roles poked through the plot in ways that were important to the plot but might also go against the sensibilities of some readers. Seeing how he reacted to them made a great deal of sense. Of course the culture he grew up in affected the way he thought about others, but I also sensed a great deal of compassion and courage in him that had a big impact on how I interpreted those scenes.

If you love big plot twists, Terror Beneath Cactus Flats might be right up your alley!

Hopeful Science Fiction: Overlay

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the eleventh and final story from this anthology that I’ll cover here.

Overlay

silhouette of a group of people rescuing someone who fell down the side of a mountainIn Elizabeth Bonesteel’s Overlay, two parents undertook a dangerous mission to save their captured son.

I know you all probably want more details than that, but this was one of those tales that’s so fast-paced and filled with twists that I have to mind what I say about it in order to avoid spoiler territory.

Setting the opening scene in sewer drains of all places was a good choice. It showed off Ray and Cass’ personalities nicely, especially when it came to just how far they’d go to rescue their kid.

I did have trouble putting all of the pieces of this story together due to how non-linearly they were arranged. The characters jumped from past to present to future and back again. While this is a storytelling device I’ve enjoyed in the past, I found it confusing for these particular characters because of how wildly different the various periods of their lives were from one another.

There was also something included in the story that I can’t mention specifically that made it even more confusing due to how little time was spent explaining what it was supposed to mean and how many different interpretations of it I came up with.

I’ll refrain from going into detail about it, but anyone who reads the first few paragraphs will spot it immediately. It was quite creative, but I sure did wish it had been explained more thoroughly. All of the interpretations I came up with were fascinating, and I’m sure there were other ways to understand it that other readers could have added as well.

All of these issues together made this story feel rough around the edges to me. I loved the initial concept of it and thought the opening scene couldn’t have been written better. It had such an urgent tone that I had to remind myself to keep breathing as I waited to find out if Ray and Cass would be able to save their son.

There were other moments like this later on in the plot. When they happened, they reminded me why I was so drawn to it to begin with. I only wish that the scenes between them had been better able to tie them all together in ways that pushed the storyline forward and kept up the high energy of the beginning. This tale had a lot of promise and I really wanted to like it more than I did.

With that being said, it definitely still does belong in the Hopeful Science Fiction sub-genre. The ending was satisfying and I’m glad I stuck around to find out what happened to everyone before, during, and after the daring rescue attempt.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the tenth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Machine of Loving Grace

Content warning: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and sexism. I will be discussing these things in my review.

A close-up photo of a circuit board. Katherine Cross’ Machine of Loving Grace showed what happened when an AI designed to moderate video games took on a life of its own.

The content warning for this short story might make some potential readers pause. These are some pretty heavy topics, and they’re things that women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBT+ community can often be inundated with online.

With that being said, I encourage everyone who has the emotional bandwidth for it to dive into this tale. Ami, the AI mentioned earlier, was created to permanently end this abusive behaviour in video games. Imagine being able to play any video game you wish without ever needing to worry about other players mistreating you in these ways!

That idea was so remarkable that I had to find out how Ami’s reaction to these interactions evolved over time. She was programmed to be highly empathetic, so reading abusive chat logs was as disturbing for her as it would be for you or I to read them.

The cool thing about the world building in general was how realistic it felt. While we don’t yet live in a world where AI is capable of moderating video games so precisely, this sure seemed like something that we could all live to see happen. The explanations of how she was created and why Phoebe, the programmer in charge of her, was so surprised by Ami’s actions were well done.

So, too, were the reactions of the higher-ups at Rhombus, the company that employed Phoebe, when they realized how Ami was reacting to a problem that has been around since the Internet was in its infancy.

There are so many things I want to say about later plot twists in relation to the differences between how they reacted to online harassment and what Ami thought should be done about it. This truly is something that all of you should experience for yourselves, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone told you to be patient or to not overreact to something that you knew was wrong and never should have been permitted.

Sometimes hope thrives in places you might be least likely to expect it, and that’s beautiful.

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum- Creatures by James Pack book cover. Image on cover is of two lights shining in a dark forest. Are they eyes or headlights? Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Author: James Pack

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?

Review:

Horror fans, I have something special for you today!

As I mentioned in my review of An Imperfect Crime, Mr. Pack excels at taking perfectly ordinary characters and throwing them into situations they never could have anticipated. I love that plot device and was excited to see what he came up with this time.

There were a few tags I left off of this post for spoiler reasons. None of them were things that are commonly known to be sensitive topics, but I’ll happily discuss them privately with anyone who wants to verify if this is the right book for them. There were four stories in this collection, so I’ll give each one it’s own chance to shine in this review.

“The Harpy of Miller Road” began with a 911 call about a naked woman down the middle of a road. The fascinating thing about this emergency was how the 911 operator reacted to it. There’s so much more I want to say about this tale. It really captured the author’s writing strengths beautifully, especially when it comes to expecting his audience to do some of their own legwork to put all of the pieces together.

A man named Peter was questioned by the police after accidentally killing a stranger in “Disengagement.” I’m not normally the sort of reader who sympathizes with murderers, so it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to me to see how much I liked him and hoped the detective in charge of this case would somehow exonerate him. Did the facts seem to be turning against him quickly? Yes! Did that matter? No, not at all. Finding out what really happened and if Peter was as innocent as I hoped he would be made it impossible to stop reading this.

There’s honestly not much I can say about “The Hearing” without giving away the plot twists in it. Obviously, it’s about a hearing that will decide someone’s fate. David, the man in the centre of it all, was one of the friendliest folks you could imagine. The discrepancy between what he was accused of doing and how he behaved reminded me of “Disengagement.” There were so many similarities between the two that I did wish they could have been split into separate collections to keep readers from comparing them, especially since they were right next to each other in the page count. They’re both good stories. I just found it a little tricky to think about them without comparing them.

I’ll admit to being confused by “The Fall of the Foot” at first. There were a ton of characters running around in it and I didn’t immediately catch the cultural reference that was embedded in those scenes because it wasn’t something I knew much about growing up. That quickly changed once I caught up and realized just how cool it was to see these characters in a whole new light. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all who they were. Let’s just say that you’ll probably recognize them much faster than I did and that their adventures were well worth checking out.

If you enjoy this collection, I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the Dollar Tales.  Everything that I’ve read so far from this universe works perfectly well as standalone stories, but they’re even better when understood as a group.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Move the World

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Last winter I discovered the… Read More

4 Things That Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows Worth Rewatching

Raise your hand if you love rewatching your old favourite sci-fi and fantasy shows! Over the last few months, I’ve slowly become more reticent about watching new films and TV shows in these genres. I’m sure many of them are going to be amazing once I return to chipping away at my humongous to-watch queue,… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More