Tag Archives: Mystery

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.

Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

Book cover for 1NG4. Image on cover is of a metal structure that has been photographed just after dusk.Title: 1NG4: A Long Short Story

Author: Berthold Gambrel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 11, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult

Length: 51 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Gunnar is part of a team studying a powerful new energy source aboard the seaborne platform Ryojin. But their work is interrupted, first by mysterious attackers, and then by a visitor from the sea even stranger than the new technology…

Review:

Strap in for a wild ride!

The world building was well done. This was set at some unspecified time in the future when climate change melted so much ice at the polar ice caps that sea levels flooded many formerly inhabitable areas. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover how this changed not only the Earth itself but also human society and the expectations of the average person of what their life can or should be like. What I can say is that it was well thought out and logical. I wanted to know more, but I was also satisfied with what was presented to us.

One of the most interesting things about this tale was how much it relied on the audience to come up with our own theories about what it means and what it was trying to say about human nature. There were a couple of times in the beginning when I wished it was a little clearer about which interpretation, if any, was actually the most reasonable one. Be patient while reading this because it really does gel together beautifully in the final scene for reasons that I’d better not so much as hint at to avoid any semblance of spoilers.

I’m honestly not that well acquainted with military science fiction, but I really liked how this example of it was written. The plot focused on a scientist working on the Ryojin, a vessel that had strong ties to a futuristic version of the military in a world where war seemed to be less common than it is today.

With that being said, there were the sorts of battles you’d expect to find in this subgenre. What I liked the most about those scenes was how smoothly they set up the rest of the storyline.

This story was labelled as something written for the 16-18 age level on Amazon. I agree with that age range, but I also think it’s something that will appeal just as much to adult readers. I read a ton of young adult and science fiction novels, and I think it incorporated both of those genres nicely. Although it did lean much more heavily in the science fiction direction, so don’t let the young adult label scare you off if that’s not typically something on your bookshelf! There’s something here for everyone.

In the end, 1NG4: A Long Short Story was an incredibly satisfying read that I highly recommend.

Safe and Sound: A Review of I Am Mother

Film poster for I Am Mother. Image on poster shows a robot holding a baby. In the background are the faces of the main characters. Content warning: death of a pet and blood. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

I Am Mother is a 2019 Australian science fiction thriller about a human girl who was raised by a robot that was designed to repopulate the Earth after some sort of extinction event.

The characters in this tale don’t have conventional names like you or I do. Instead, the human child is called Daughter and the robot who raised her is called Mother.

While Daughter is well cared for, her isolation not only from other people but from anything outside of their isolation bunker is absolute.

Mother insists it isn’t safe out there, and her word is law.

Characters

Clara Rugaard as Daughter
Clara Rugaard as Daughter

Daughter was an intelligent and thoughtful young woman. She’d previously been obedient of Mother’s wishes, but her curiosity about what life was like outside of the UNU-HWK_Repopulation Facility and dissatisfation with what her mother told her about it was growing stronger by the way.

 

Luke Hawker as Mother (performance)
Luke Hawker as Mother (performance) Rose Byrne as Mother (voice)

 

Mother the robot who had raised Daughter and who was making preparations for the next human infant she’d take responsibility for. She was strict and protective of her daughter. While Daughter’s health and happiness was important to her, she refused to compromise on any of the rules she’d come up with on how best to raise a human child in a post-apocalyptic environment.

Hilary Swank as Woman
Hilary Swank as Woman

 

Woman was the injured, dying stranger who stumbled upon the bunker one day. She’d lived a life filled with fear and danger. Every move she made was calculated to give her the highest probability of surviving just one more day.

My Review

Just like with Annihilation, my biggest reason for wanting to watch this film had to do with the fact that all of the main characters in it were women. All of the science fiction films I grew up watching were male dominated. Some of them were comprised of nothing but dudes. Others might have as many as one female hero for every three, four, or five male heroes.

I’m elated to see this changing, and I’ll continue to highlight science fiction films that change those old norms as I find them.

You may have noticed that the cast for “I Am Mother” is pretty small. No, I didn’t leave anyone out to avoid sharing spoilers. This tale was so tightly woven around the fates of the three main characters that they seemed like the perfect number of players for the plot.

Mother, Daughter, and Woman were three complex individuals whose goals sometimes clashed sharply. Finding a solution to their conflicts that satisfied all three of them would be a herculean task at best because of how differently they all measured success and how much friction existed between what everyone wanted.

No, I can’t go into more details about that without giving you spoilers. It is definitely something that’s worth exploring for yourself, though. I’m the sort of viewer who picks one character – not necessarily the hero, mind you – and spends the entire film hoping she will succeed. In this case, my loyalties shifted from one scene to the next.

Daughter and Mother having a discussion.
Daughter and Mother having a discussion.

One of my strengths as a viewer is that I always want more information about the science in science fiction, so there were a few things about Daughter’s upbringing that I wish had been addressed with a bit more detail. For example, how was Mother planning to keep her immune system strong when the girl had never been exposed to any outside germs? Were there vaccines for every possible virus and bacteria in this world? How did Daughter get sufficient vitamin D when she’d never been outside and ate what appeared to be a somewhat monotonous diet?

These weren’t exactly criticisms, though, because I came to easily accept other parts of her existence that were spaced even further away from our current scientific understanding of human biology and growth patterns. I strongly suspect that wondering about how this stuff actually worked, alongside many other questions this story brings up, is something the filmmakers did on purpose for their audience.

Some questions become more interesting if you’re not spoon-fed answers to them, especially since the mystery elements of the plot were so simple to put together in my experience. There were plenty of clues about what was really happening with Mother and Daughter for anyone who pays attention to what they’re watching and thinks critically about it.

I figured out the mystery pretty early on. What was compelling about it was seeing how Daughter reacted to the clues she also had access to and what happened when she realized that the information she already had wasn’t fitting together the way it should.

Something was missing.

I’ll leave it up to my readers to discover what that something was. What I will say is that this is a film I’d happily watch again. It was simply that well written and thought provoking.

I Am Mother is available on Netflix.

Dangerous Voyage: A Review of Europa Report

Film poster for Europa Report. Image on poster shows an astronaut standing on an icy plain in Europa while Jupiter looms overhead.Content warning: Found footage and mental illness. I will be discussing these things later on in this post.

Europa Report is a 2013 science fiction film about an international group of astronauts who are sent on an expedition to Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa, to see if they can find any evidence of life there.

This story expects its audience to already know the basics of how space exploration works and what astronauts would realistically hope to accomplish on a mission like this one.

While the plot definitely does meander into places that are beyond the scope of our current understanding of other parts of our solar system, I classified it as hard science fiction and would suggest spending some time reading about real-life spaceflights and NASA’s tentative plans to explore Europa before watching this film to anyone who doesn’t already have a basic understanding of these things already for reasons I’ll explain in my review below. (Both of those links are nonfiction and 100% spoiler-free).

I should note that this was shot as found footage, so there is shaky camera work in a few places. This is a technique that has made me a little nauseated when it happened in other films. While it didn’t bother me in this one, I still thought it would be best to make note of it for anyone who has a more sensitive stomach.

Characters

Daniel Wu (left) as William Xu
Captain Daniel Wu (left) as William Xu. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Captain Wu was the level-headed leader of this crew who was excited to see Europa regardless of what they discovered there.

 

Anamaria Marinca as Rosa Dasque
Anamaria Marinca as Rosa Dasque

 

Rosa was the pilot and archivist. A risk taker at times, she signed up for this mission because she wanted to go “faster and farther than anyone else before.”

 

Michael Nyqvist as Andrei Blok
Michael Nyqvist as Andrei Blok

 

Andrei was the chief engineer. He was highly skilled at his job but found the living accommodations on the Europa One to be less than ideal, especially once he began to deal with his emotional reaction to something difficult that happened earlier on in the mission. My fan theory was that he was a deeply introverted man who struggled to find enough peace and quiet in such tight living quarters even before that experience occurred.

 

Karolina Wydra as Katya Petrovna
Karolina Wydra as Katya Petrovna

 

Katya was the science officer. Her background was in marine biology and oceanography, but she was ironically scared of flying when she signed up for this mission. She was adventurous and yearned to fulfill the crew’s mission and discover life on Europa.

 

Sharlto Copley as James Corrigan
Sharlto Copley as James Corrigan

 

James was the engineer. He’d left behind a wife and young son to go on this mission and often spoke of how much he missed them.

Christian Camargo as Daniel Luxembourg
Christian Camargo as Daniel Luxembourg. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

 

Daniel was the chief science officer. His friendship with James provided a few lighthearted moments in an otherwise serious tale.

My Review

Don’t let the introduction to this post deter you from giving this film a try if you’re unfamiliar with the topics it covers. While it does expect the audience to come with some prior knowledge of spacecrafts and space travel, the storyline was well written and fascinating.

“The Europa One Mission was the first attempt to send men and women into deep space. For over six months the world watched every moment.”

All of the characters had spent years gaining the education and experience necessary to be eligible for this sort of history-making mission. Since this was a plot-driven story, there wasn’t a great deal of time spent exploring their backstories. I did learn enough about them to become emotionally attached, though.

As mentioned in the content warning and character description, there is a subplot about Andrei’s struggles with his mental health. All of the astronauts had been taught about the dangers that this mission could pose to their mental health, from the effects of Zero G to the natural consequences of living in relative isolation for so long. I appreciated the way the filmmakers handled this topic.

While I can’t discuss the incident that contributed to this character developing a mental illness without giving away spoilers, it was handled sensitively. There was nothing salacious about it, and it fit into the storyline perfectly. Honestly, I could very well have had the same response if I’d been in his shoes. This is something I’d be happy to discuss in more detail privately with anyone  who asks for it.

The camaraderie between the six astronauts was well documented and provided a nice contrast to all of the scenes that went into detail about the various scientific studies they were conducting and the many things they needed to do to keep their ship in good shape.

Katya exploring Europa
Katya exploring Europa. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Some of the most exciting scenes were obviously the ones that showed what happened after the astronauts arrived on Europa.

They had a long list of samples they wanted to take from the ice and sea beneath the ice.

What would they find there? How would the readings of this moon taken from Earth compare to what it was actually like?

I had so many questions about this part of their journey, so I was thrilled to see what happened after they arrived and began analyzing everything. Yes, there were certain acronyms and references mentioned during this portion that weren’t explained to the audience. Some of them could be figured out from context clues. Others might require searching online for viewers who aren’t already familiar with this stuff.

Honestly, I think doing a little of research is well worth figuring out exactly what characters are talking about when they’re testing a sample of water or discussing how to fix a damaged portion of their vessel. While that may make this film a little less accessible to the average viewer than it would otherwise be, I thought writing it that way was the right choice. Actual astronauts wouldn’t pause to explain every technical term they used, after all!

To share one final note, the plot was shared out of chronological order in certain scenes. Everything you need to know is included if you pay attention, and the reasons for filming it this way will become clear if you stick with it.

This was something I had a wonderful time watching. I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to put a little effort into piecing everything together.

Europa Report is available on Apple TV.

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Book Cover for The Lost Ones by Anita Frank. Cover shows white outline of woman at top of staircase. There is a large picture window behind her and stylized leaves decorating the rest of the cover.

Title: The Lost Ones

Author: Anita Frank

Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins)

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 400 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917
 
Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

 

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. 

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

As the blurb and the content warning mentioned, one of the subplots of this tale involved what happened to a house in the years following the sudden death of a child there. That child’s identity and reason for death were things that were revealed much later on in the plot, so I won’t go into any detail about them here. What I will say is that this tale spent a great deal of time exploring how grief not only changes over time but can stick with someone long after their loss. The family who experienced this loss weren’t the only ones who were grieving. I loved seeing how the other subplots involving grief were interwoven with this one. Not all of them were quite as dramatic, but they worked together beautifully.

What made me give this book a 3.5 star rating was the behaviour of the characters, especially Stella. She’d been intelligent enough to qualify as a nurse in World War I, and yet she continually made choices that I struggled to understand even while knowing that she’d suffered a terribly tragedy while abroad. Her lack of common sense astounded me at times, especially when it came to how she responded to phenomena that had no rational explanation. The occasional lapse of judgement is totally understandable, but there were times when I found it hard to take the plot seriously because of how often she rushed into dangerous situations without thinking things through first. This was a flaw that was repeated with some of the other characters as well, including ones that had lived at Greyswick long enough to that there was something dangerous lurking there.

The treatment of the female characters was handled nicely. We’re still a long ways off from ending sexism, but it was much more insidious in 1917. Women from every social class dealt with it, and there were very few laws to protect them from harmful stereotypes about what they were capable of and how they should be treated if they stepped outside of a narrow range of acceptable behaviours. This isn’t something that a lot of gothic novels address, so I was pleased to see it get so much attention here even though I also cringed at the way women’s hormonal states or “feeble” minds were used as an excuse to avoid getting to the bottom of what was causing so much havoc at Greyswick. It was historically accurate, though!

Despite these issues, The Lost Ones was a deliciously chilling read that I’d recommend to anyone who loves Gothic literature or haunted houses and doesn’t mind suspending their disbelief for a while.

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Title: Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside Author: James Pack Publisher: VaudVil Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from James Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: These Dollar Tales feature one or two short stories from the forthcoming collection of fiction by James… Read More

Adventures on the Orange Planet: A Review of The Lady of Dawnzantium

As mentioned earlier this summer, I’ve decided to include more book reviews in the publication queue for this blog. Everything I review will somehow be connected to the speculative fiction genre, and I will highlight authors whose books are self-published, indie, or from small presses as often as possible. As always, my reviews are spoiler… Read More

Why It’s Okay to Take Breaks From Science Fiction and Fantasy

I have a confession to share with all of you. I’ve barely read any science fiction and fantasy books recently. Since I’m a sci-fi writer and a longtime fan of these genres, I’m regularly immersed in thoughts about wizards, robots, aliens, spaceships, science experiments gone wrong, and all of the other tropes you can expect… Read More