Tag Archives: Science Fiction

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.

4 Things That Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows Worth Rewatching

A white bowl filled with popcorn and sitting on a wooden table 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, but for now I’m much more interested in rewatching stories I’ve seen dozens of time before.

Keep scrolling for spoiler-free references to some of my favourite

Familiar Plot Twists

Okay, so don’t laugh at me, but I get pretty attached to certain characters. I cheer when they reach their goals and cry when sad things happen to them.

Empathy is a gift, but there are also times when I’d rather not ride the emotional rollercoaster of are these characters going to be okay?

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's holding a glowing orb. Yes, most of them will be fine by the time the credits roll. But thanks to earlier experiences with Joss Whedon and the unpredictable things he likes to do with the lives of beloved characters, I don’t fully trust any director or screenwriter when my favourites are involved.

The beautiful thing about rewatching something you’ve seen many times before is that there are no big surprises around the corner. You might forget a funny line here or a minor plot twist there if it’s been a while, but for the most part you roll the opening credits  knowing full well what’s to come.

There’s something soothing about that, especially when other things in life might not be so predictable.

Predictions That Do (or Don’t) Come True

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future Part IISpeaking of predictions, the science fiction genre in particular is filled with them.

I’m the sort of viewer who takes note of what fellow storytellers in this genre think will happen in the near future and then likes to check again five or ten or twenty years later to see what they might have gotten right.

Fashion trends of future decades have never been accurate in my experience. (Here’s looking at you, 2015 scenes in Back to the Future Part II!)

But some films do predict the future more accurately. Rediscovering those scenes is like finding buried treasure.

Jokes That Never Get Old

If you ask me, the best films and TV shows are the ones that still make you laugh the third or thirtieth time you see them. Case in point: The Princess Bride. This fairy tale was framed as something a grandfather was reading to his sick grandson.

A few minutes into Princess Buttercup’s adventures, the kid interrupted to ask if it was a kissing book.

Boy from The Princess Bride saying, "Is this a kissing book?"

As someone who avoided kissing books as a kid and rarely reads them as an adult, I laugh every time I hear this line. It’s classic.

New Details in the Story

Alakina Mann in The OthersAnyone who has followed this blog for a long time may remember my love of the paranormal film The Others.

(Someday I need to write a full-length review of it for this site! It’s a modern-day classic).

The first time I watched this film, I missed the major plot twist in it until the last possible moment.

It was only after rewatching it that I picked up on the clues about what was really going on with the main character and her two young children who were living in a remote house during the World War II era while waiting to hear news about her husband who was on the front lines of the war.

This was always a good story, but it became even better once I knew what on Earth was going on with this strange, reclusive family. Every time I rewatch it, I pick up on even more subtle foreshadowing or small moments of character development I hadn’t noticed in the past.

Respond

What are your favourite science fiction, fantasy, or other speculative fiction shows to rewatch?

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside book cover. There is a fuzzy photo of an amphibious, bidedal creature on this cover. 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 Pack titled Morbid Museum. This Dollar Tale is called The Ghosts Inside and features the original and extended versions of the story. Go inside the mind of a man who believes he is saving children by ending their lives. Will he kill again or will someone stop him from taking young lives?

Review:

Content warning: child abuse and the murders of children. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

This e-book contains two versions of the same tale. I found the first draft too short for my preferences, so I’ll be reviewing the extended version.

Not every serial killer is an evil genius.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was the fact that the antagonist behaved like an ordinary person. (Well, other than the murders he committed, of course). He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, fastest, or most cunning person around. If not for his awful hobby, he would have struck me as a perfectly average man. That was refreshing.

I found it tricky to keep up with the multiple narrators. It would have worked really nicely in a novella or novel, but the roughly twenty-five pages that the extended version had to work with simply wasn’t enough space for everyone to show the audience who they were and what they were about. Focusing so intently on the killer in the first version was a smarter decision. As much as I enjoyed many of the other changes the author made to the storyline once it was expanded, I do wish this part of it had carried through.

There were so many hints about the killer’s personality that I was able to gently tease out of the things he said and did. It was interesting to figure out what made him tick. While he wasn’t someone I’d ever want to meet on a dark street or anywhere else, I did like the way the author tried to explain why someone would commit such unforgivable crimes. This only became more true as I realized what the killer’s biggest weakness was and why it appeared to be something that he himself wasn’t necessarily aware of. I’ll leave it up to other readers to put these pieces together for themselves, but they did make for a satisfying experience.

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside was much darker than what I typically read. I think it would be best suited for people who enjoy crime fiction or dark science fiction.

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.

10 Science Fiction Books I’d Recommend to New Readers of This Genre

Last August I blogged about the science fiction and fantasy books I’d recommend for elementary, middle school, and high school students. Today I’m talking about science fictions books I’d recommend to adults who have never read anything in this genre before. Next Thursday I’ll be blogging about books in the fantasy genre that I think every adult should read.

While science fiction and fantasy are typically grouped together in the SFF genre, there are enough differences between the two of them as far as storytelling goes that they deserved to have separate posts.

I focused on a few different criteria for this week’s list. The books I recommended obviously needed to be completely understandable to someone who has no idea what the tropes or common themes of this genre are. That criteria alone was a little tricky to meet, but I think I did a pretty good job of picking tales that didn’t use a lot of jargon.

Many sci-fi novels include jokes or subtle references to other, older works. As much as I love what’s happening with modern science fiction, I honestly do think that the classics are the best place to begin because of how influential they are and how often they are still referenced in books that were published decades later.

I also quickly developed a preference for short stories while I was working on this list. It’s much easier to convince someone to devote 15 minutes to reading something short and sweet than to hand them a 400 page book that may take weeks or months to finish. All of the short stories on this list are available to read for free online, and I’ve provided links to them below.

Rain, Rain Go Away by Isaac Asimov.

This is a deceptively simple short story about a group of people who are waiting for the rain to stop. The twist ending is something I adored the first time I read it, and I hope it will appeal to new readers as well. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the cover for this one because it was published as part of an anthology years ago and I couldn’t get the cover for that book to load into this post.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin.

What would you do to live in an utopian society? I loved the way this short story forced its audience to think hard about that question. There is so much more I want to say about it, but everything else I could add would give away spoilers.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

I’m always surprised by how many people have heard of this book but never actually read it. If someone is in the mood to dive into nineteenth century horror and science fiction, this is the perfect place to start. Yes, the pacing is much slower than what you’d typically read in 2017, but with that slower pacing comes many opportunities for the author to painstakingly explain why Victor Frankenstein created his monster and what happened once it came to life.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

This book was the blueprint for many future dystopian novels, including Oryx and Crake which I will be discussing below. It covers everything from the horrors of being monitored by your government in every moment of your life to what happens when science figures out how to alter the intelligence of large portions of the population. I especially enjoyed the sections that showed how scientists reduced the intelligence of fetuses that were not destined to become the leaders of their society.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

I’d make this entire list out of Octavia E. Butler’s books if I could. (Maybe someday I’ll devote a post specifically to her?)

She is such a creative writer, especially in this tale which is neither as heartwarming as you’d expect a story about a child to be nor as as chilling as you’d expect vampire fiction to be. The beautiful tension between those two concepts is one of the many reasons why her tales are such an excellent introduction the this genre.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

One of my favourite parts of the science fiction genre is general is how it gets readers to pay attention to critical social, political, and scientific issues by framing them as fiction and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions about other ways to interpret those scenes.

Oryx and Crake is the introduction to the MaddAddam trilogy, and I was mesmerized by it from the very first scene. After a single man destroyed the entire world, the small handful of remaining characters had to figure out how to survive in a society where genetically-engineered organisms and crumbling buildings are really all that’s left of humanity’s legacy. The science in this tale is at times wacky, frightening, and mind-blowing. It is a must-read.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

Many books about humans meeting aliens assume we will have the upper hand. This is one of the ones that doesn’t, and that made it even better than it otherwise would be. The other reason why I’d recommend it to newcomers to this genre is that it was very good at asking philosophical questions about everything from what it means to be human to what we might be able to expect if we ever met another sentient race.

All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury.

I know I’ve recommended this before in a Suggestion Saturday post, but I had to give it some attention again. The science fiction elements in this story weren’t actually mentioned right away, and if you blinked you might have missed them entirely until they were talked about again.

Somehow the subtle nature of that part of the storytelling made the ending even more satisfactory.

 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

This wasn’t a friendly piece of science fiction, but it is an important one. My favourite high school English teacher assigned this to us. I don’t remember what she said about it after we read it, but I do remember how disturbed I was by the way this society was set up.

 

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan.

There are many fantastic graphic novels out there, but this is the best one I’ve read yet. The idea of being the last man – but not the last human – on Earth fits so nicely into the science fiction genre, especially once the main character realized what had happened and began to figure out what to do with his life from that point forward.

What do you think of my list? What have I missed?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it on Twitter today.