Tag Archives: Reviews

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1)

Author: Dixon Reuel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Dixon

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows.

A military VR trainer, wanting to keep her relationship with a fellow scientist hidden, must pass a security inspection in her lab by the vicious Atlas Crusade that has swept to power.

When the leader of the security team demands an unusual VR request in her lab, Prof. Meliss must decide between keeping her lover safe, or secretly undertaking a consciousness swap that could end the Crusade’s five-year long relentless rule. A rule that has co-opted all scientific research to aid their global expansion, rendering Prof. Meliss and Prof. Lauren expendable, as legions of other researches wait to step into their lab if either woman dishonors the great Crusade.

Science and the military aren’t always a good match for each other.

Virtual reality is one of those topics that always makes my ears perk up when I see it mentioned in a science fiction blurb. There are so many different ways to approach this idea that an author can do just about anything with it, and Ms. Reuel came up with a pretty creative take on why the military would be interested in developing a virtual world for their soldiers to explore. Their reason for paying for this research is something best discovered by readers for themselves.

The world building would have benefited from more development. I was confused by how the military seemed to simultaneously know everything that was happening in their research bases and yet also not know simple things about them like what sort of equipment they used or how their experiments were going. It’s totally possibly for a regime to act this way, but it would have been nice to know what the limits of their knowledge was.

Prof. Meliss, the main character, wasn’t given much opportunity to reveal her personality either. I’d struggle to tell you much about her as an individual or explain why she’d gotten into a relationship with her assistant, Dr. Lauren, knowing how dangerous that would be for both of them. A lot of this character development could be coming in future volumes, but it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of who she was and why they were willing to take such huge risks. I always like finding queer couples in science fiction, so I was disappointed with how their arc played out so far.

One of the few things I did learn about Prof. Meliss was that she could think quickly in a crisis. That’s the perfect skill to have when an army has descended onto your base and is breaking down the front door. The most interesting scenes in my opinion were the ones in the beginning that described how she reacted to this invasion.

Since this was both a short story and the first instalment in a series, I was definitely not expecting the character development or world building to be perfectly ironed out. But I would have liked to see at least a few sentences spent explaining how this militaristic society works, why relationships between scientists and their assistants were punished so harshly, and what the military was and wasn’t capable of. Getting thrown into a new world is amusing, but I needed more answers about what was happening before the final scene wrapped up.

With that being said, I saw a lot of promise in this tale. There were hints about how climate change had affected the lives of ordinary people in this futuristic world that I’m incredibly curious to learn more about.

Life After The Handmaid’s Tale: A Review of The Testaments

Title: The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2)

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Dystopia

Length: 432 pages

Source: I bought it.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
 
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
 
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

Review:

Content warning: sexual assault, child abuse, torture, pregnancy, childbirth, and murder. I will only make a few vague reference to these things in my review. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post.

Be sure to finish The Handmaid’s Tale before picking up The Testaments. I’d also recommend either watching the TV show based on this universe or doing a few hours of research on the characters, themes, and plot twists featured in the small screen version of it as well.

This is something best read by people who are intimately familiar with what has already happened in this tale, and I will be assuming that everyone who continues reading is already familiar with this universe.

I’ve included non-spoiler-y quotes from this book at key points in this review.

“You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”

Now that those things have been addressed, let’s jump straight into my review. I’m writing this as a hardcore fan whose expectations were sky high and who had been hotly anticipating this book. The only thing I knew going into it was that it was set long after the final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and that it had three female narrators.

Aunt Lydia was originally introduced in the first book in this series. Her role in Gilead was to help keep the female sphere of that society running smoothly, especially when it came to training and disciplining the Handmaids. Witness 369A was a young girl who grew up in Gilead as the cherished only child of a wealthy commander and his wife. She was a true believer in her childhood faith. Finally, Daisy was a young woman who lived in Canada.

“You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.”

My descriptions of the narrators may sound incomplete. They were written that way to purposefully avoid sharing spoilers, so be careful about what you read elsewhere online if you google them.

Gilead was a violent, abusive society wrapped in the shroud of (mostly) false piety. The Testaments went into more detail about how women were treated in many different layers of society than the novel version of the first book in this series did. Having three narrators from such different backgrounds made it easy for Ms. Atwood to explore parts of this universe that Offred couldn’t have known a thing about when she originally shared her tale.

What I found most interesting about it was how different groups of women were pitted against each other and divided into small groups: fertile women, fertile women who gave birth to living, healthy children, wives of lower-ranking Commanders, wives of higher-ranking Commanders, adoptive mothers, Marthas, Econowives, Handmaids, Aunts, and more.

“It was also shameful: when a shameful thing is done to you, the shamefulness rubs off on you. You feel dirtied.”

Everyone was competing for the same vanishingly small piece of status despite the fact that there was no safe position to take. Danger lurked everywhere no matter who you were or what you did because Gilead blamed women for things they had no control over and never wanted in the first place.

Yes, this could also be interpreted as a criticism of the way women are treated in modern society. Just like The Handmaid’s Tale, the sequel is firmly inspired by and a critique of real-world events. Dystopian novels work best for me when they draw parallels between what is happening in them and what the author wants his or her readers to understand about the real world. This is something Ms. Atwood has always excelled at, and I nodded in agreement when I read the sentences that gave hints about her opinions of the current political climate in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. They were brief and never interfered with the plot itself, but they made her position on the rights of women, LGBT+ people, and minorities unmistakeable.

The one thing I wish had been a little better explained in this story has to do with Aunt Lydia’s character development. She’s an easy character to loathe in the book and television versions of The Handmaid’s Tale. I was fascinated by the descriptions of her life before and during the rise of Gilead. There were times when I sympathized with her despite all of the horrible things she did later on in life.

“As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Finally, what surprised me the most about this book were the conclusions it made about what to do if you find yourself locked into a world that seems impossible to escape.

The Handmaid’s Tale took a fairly passive approach to this dilemma. Any shred of hope that took root there would quickly be covered up before it was trampled.

The Testaments waters that hope, fertilizes the soil, and encourages the sun to shine just enough so that hope pushes its roots into the centre of the earth and flourishes.

Yes, history sometimes rhymes. No, that doesn’t mean that we’re powerless to change how the next sentence ends.

If for no other reason, this breath of fresh air is reason enough to read it.

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check them out.

Title: Let’s Play White

Author: Chesya Burke

Publisher: Apex Publications

Publication Date: 2011

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 200 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Apex Publications.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

White brings with it dreams of respect, of wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It’s the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain? The title story in this collection asks those questions, and then moves on to challenge notions of race, privilege, personal choice, and even life and death with equal vigor.

From the spectrum spanning despair and hope in “What She Saw When They Flew Away” to the stark weave of personal struggles in “Chocolate Park,” Let’s Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard. “I Make People Do Bad Things” shines a metaphysical light on Harlem’s most notorious historical madame, and then, with a deft twist into melancholic humor, “Cue: Change” brings a zombie-esque apocalypse, possibly for the betterment of all mankind.

Gritty and sublime, the stories of Let’s Play White feature real people facing the worlds they’re given, bringing out the best and the worst of what it means to be human. If you’re ready to slip into someone else’s skin for a while, then it’s time to come play white.

Review:

Content Warning: racism, pregnancy, childbirth, deaths (including the death of a child), rape, domestic violence, and miscarriage. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post, and I will not be going into detail about any of these topics in my review.

As much as I’d love to write a full-length review of all eleven stories in this anthology, doing so would have inflated this post to five or six thousand words at minimum because each one was set in its own unique universe. What I decided to do instead was to pick a few of the stories I enjoyed the most and talk about why I liked them so much. If any of these mini-reviews catches you attention, I highly recommend reading the whole anthology! It was well done and pretty interesting to read.

Purse

In “Purse,” a woman named Manyara battled anxious thoughts about the other passengers on the bus she was travelling on, especially when it came to a black man who was sitting near her. She was carrying thousands of dollars in her purse and worried she’d be robbed. This tale was filled with creative plot twists, so I’ll need to be mindful of what else I say about it.

What impressed me the most was how much effort I had to put in as a reader to figure out what was really happening on this bus ride. There was so much more going on with Manyara than she originally shared with the audience. This is something I’d recommend reading with as few assumptions about what is happening as your brain can handle.

What She Saw When They Flew Away

Grief doesn’t always end on a set schedule. Pearl, the main character of “What She Saw When They Flew Away,” had suffered a terrible loss before this tale began. Not only did she struggle to come to terms with it, she had even more trouble helping her daughter, Nayja, adapt to their new life together. Their sometimes-conflicting reactions to the same tragedy made me wonder what would happen by the final scene.

While I can’t say much else about their lives without giving away spoilers, I loved the metaphors Pearl used to explain how she was feeling even though I do wish she’d been given more time to show how they affected her life instead of simply telling the audience they were bringing up bittersweet memories.

Cue: Change

As the blurb mentioned, “Cue: Change” was set in a zombiepocalypse. These weren’t typical zombies, though, and their unpredictable effect on society was something I couldn’t have predicted ahead of time. I was fascinated by this twist on this monster. It was completely different from any other take on them I’ve read before, and it made me wish for more stories like this.

The humans also didn’t behave the way I’d normally expect them to in this sub-genre. Not only did they make calm, rational decisions, they stuck to their regular routines as much as they possibly could. This isn’t a common reaction to zombies, and it made me wish this was a full-length novel so I could get to know the characters even better than I did.

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Toynbee Convector

In June of 2018 I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of TimeThe Lovely BonesSemiosis, and Astraea. Today I’m back with another recommendation for hopeful sci-fi. This time it’s a short story! 

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.

The Toynbee Convector

“The Toynbee Convector” is a short story by Ray Bradbury that was first published in 1984 as a standalone piece. It was later republished as part of an anthology, so that is where the book cover in this post came from.

Feel free to click on the link at the beginning of this sentence if you’d like to read it for yourselves before continuing on with this post. It’s a quick read.

The storyline follows a reporter named Roger Shumway who has been given the opportunity to interview Craig Bennett Stiles, a time traveller who had visited the distant future  and come back home bursting with hope.

A century has passed since his trip, and Stiles is a very old man now. This interview will almost certainly be his last chance to tell the world more about what his journey was like and why he was so excited about what he saw in humanity’s future.

Given the short length of this piece and my strict no-spoilers policy, I can’t tell you much else about the plot. Let’s talk about my emotional reaction to it instead!

Real Problems with No Easy Solutions

The first thing that impressed me about this short story was that it existed in our universe, warts and all. This wasn’t an episode of Star Trek….although Star Trek would be an interesting choice for a future Hopeful Science Fiction post!

These characters were well aware of the pollution, violent conflict, inequality, climate change, and other major issues that humanity has yet to solve.

I found it fascinating to see how Roger reacted to the idea that so many of our biggest threats would be resolved. He was just as intrigued – and honestly maybe a little suspicious of – those claims as I would be if I spoke to someone who claimed that this same scenario would happen in real life.

Everyone Needs Hope

The importance of hope was of the recurring themes in Roger and Craig’s interview, and it was the second thing that made me think this would be the perfect addition to this series.

Craig had come of age at a time when the average’s person hope for the future was waning. So many unsuccessful attempts had been made to fix the world that some folks were beginning to wonder if it was impossible for us to make things better.

Can one person make a difference?

If one person isn’t capable of improving the world, how many willing participants do you need in order to change things?

What do you do when nothing seems to work?

I’ll leave it up my readers to discover the answers to these questions for themselves.

We All Have Choices

Not everyone necessarily has the same opportunities in life, but we all have choices.

The third thing that convinced me this was a piece of hopeful science fiction worth sharing with all of you was how Craig and Roger responded to the choices that were available to them.

Their personalities couldn’t have been more different. Roger was a risk-taker, while Craig was someone who seemed to have spent his entire life making the most cautious moves possible.

Yet they both made decisions that were eerily similar. I loved seeing how two personalities on opposite sides of the spectrum could end up coming to some of the same conclusions.

Those of you who read the free copy of this story before continuing on with this post know what I’m talking about. For everyone else, I’m doing my best to entice you to check it out without giving away too many details.

What hopeful science fiction stories have you been reading recently?

Unlikely Allies: A Review of Pads for His Throne

Content Warning: Blood.

This is otherwise a spoiler-free review.

Title: Pads for His Throne

Author: Olli Crusoe

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Humour

Length: 33 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Ollie.

Rating: 5 stars

Blurb: A regular night at the office changes Louise’s life, when a running gag summons an ancient evil from a forgotten time. To be honest, it’s probably harder on the ancient evil, though. Not only the times have changed.

Demons come in all shapes and sizes.

Before I talk about demons, though, let’s talk about menstruation. This is a topic that I’ve seen mentioned in fewer books than I have fingers on my left hand, and I genuinely can’t remember the last time it happened in the science fiction genre. The fact that it was not only mentioned but played an important role in the plot early on was one of several reasons why I decide to review this story.

Once I met Terazael, the demon that Louise accidentally summoned, I knew this was something I had to recommend to my audience. Terazael had been around for eons, and his understanding of our world was rooted in the mind of a creature who has seen countless civilizations rise and fall. That is to say, he had no idea how modern life works, and his assumptions about what sort of person would summon him might not have been totally accurate.

The relationship between Louise and Terazael was deliciously odd. He expected her to worship him as the powerful, immortal being that he was. She expected him to be a figment of her imagination and was perplexed when that didn’t turn out to the be case. They had nothing at all in common at first glance, and yet I couldn’t imagine a funnier or more memorable duo. She was as snarky as he was enthusiastic.

There was only one thing I wavered on when writing this review, and that had to do with whether or not I should include a horror tag in it. Like demons everywhere, Terazael relished the thought of blood sacrifices – especially of the virgin variety –  and talked about his desire for them them regularly and in great detail. While this wasn’t a gory story overall, it was something I thought I should mention for anyone who dislikes references to blood or torture because of how enthusiastic he was on the topic. I can’t go into more details about his preferred types of recreation or how successful he might have been with them without giving away spoilers, but I’d be happy to discuss it privately with anyone who would like more information.

I couldn’t have imagined a better ending for this story. Both Terazael and Louise struggled with problems that they had no clue how to resolve, especially in the first few scenes when she was still trying to figure out what sort of creature he was and if he really existed. It was fascinating to me to see how the plot dealt with their problems and what happened once they each realized that all of their attempts to solve them weren’t working.

Pads for His Throne was a wonderful read. Olli couldn’t have done a better job with his storytelling, and I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

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

My Review of The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, The Little Stranger, and Astraea. This is a spoiler-free review.  The… Read More