Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

In the Deep Depths of the Ocean: A Review of Aegan and the Sunken City

Aegan and the Sunken City by D.G. Redd book cover. Image on cover shows an anchor falling through the ocean and about to touch the ocean floor. Title: Aegan and the Sunken City

Author: D.G. Redd

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 26, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Futuristic

Length: 17 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

The Cartographers have announced that the Triton will drift over an old city. Aegan finds himself lucky enough to be ready to drop in his deep-dive submersible, the Argo, and scavenge for riches. If he can collect enough salvage, he can buy his way into the upper-decks, to the levels of peace and quiet. For now though, he’ll need to make do with the solitude of his boat as he slowly descends to the sunken city.

Review:

Content Warning: sea monster. I will discuss it in this review.

The ocean is only as trustworthy as who or what is swimming around in it.

Morally ambiguous characters are so interesting to read about, especially when they’re as personable as Aegan was. Would I trust him with my credit card? No, but I would love to sit down to dinner with him and hear some of the stories he could tell about the slippery and sometimes downright illegal things he’s done in order to survive. There is no doubt in my mind that he’d have a few acts of heroism to throw in there as well. He excelled at bending and even breaking the law, but he never struck me as a cruel man. He was simply someone who was trying to game an unfair system in order to make his own life easier.

I would have liked to see more time spent describing the sea monster and it’s intentions. Yes, Aegan was used to such distractions, but this reader was not! It was hard for me to picture what it looked like or why it was so interested in Aegean’s vessel in the first scene. I was also surprised by how the plot veered away after that moment, so having a more detailed description of why the author went in that direction would have been helpful as well. This is a minor criticism of something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

The world building was nicely handled. While the author didn’t have a great deal of time to go into detail, he shared enough information about how global warming changed the sea levels and human society to keep me interested and eager to find out what else had changed between our present and this nebulous time in the future. This is the sort of thing I’m happy to wait around for so long as I have a basic understanding of how e everything works, and that was definitely provided here.

This is part of a series but works perfectly well as a standalone work.

Aegan and the Sunken City piqued my curiosity for more.

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover is a close-up painting of a covered wagon travelling through a forest. Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology and religion, but they share little in common with any theologies or religions of our world. I will discuss these topics in my review.

What could be more cozy or wholesome than a Tea Monk and a robot going on a road trip in a utopian world?

I am once again going to need to tread carefully in my review in order to avoid spoilers, but I did want to talk about the theological discussions and religious practices in this universe. Ms. Chambers created such a gentle framework for those beliefs that I was quickly able to relax and follow the characters’ thought processes as they compared beliefs and asked intelligent questions of those who disagreed with them. You should know that Sibling Dex loves and accepts everyone. Their beliefs are sacred to them, but they would never use them against those who have other beliefs or no beliefs at all. Don’t be nervous about reading this if you’re like me and generally avoid stories about religion or theology based on previous negative experiences with those topics in our world. It was important part of the plot for sure, but there wasn’t a single ounce of unkindness in Sibling Dex’s worldview.

My review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built gently criticized the loose plot structure of that book. I’m happy to report that the plot was thicker in this one. Yes, it retained it’s meandering philosophical and religious discussions that are so important to Sibling Dex and Mosscap’s character development, but they faced more conflicts and obstacles to their goals this time around as well. It was fascinating to me to see how they handled abrupt changes to their travelling plans and interactions with other living things that didn’t always go as predicted. This was exactly what they both needed to in order to show the audience how they’d changed as a result as their earlier adventures.

It was exciting to see how the world building was expanded. I finally learned more about how the villages and cities in this world are connected to each other and what their relationships with one another are like. Yes, I wanted to dive even deeper into this topic, but it made sense to stop where we did. I mean, it’s not like I welcome friends to Canada by going on a long monologue about my country’s history, culture, or social customs before asking if they want to try poutine. The important parts are shared as they come up in conversation, so it made total sense for the author to do the same here.

The character development was once again handled beautifully. Sibling Dex and Mosscap changed in all sorts of interesting ways as a result of their journey and their friendship. I chuckled as their assumptions about what humans or robots should be like occasionally bumped up against realities that bore little resemblance to what either of these individuals thought was going to happen. While I did find myself wishing the last scene had been given a little more time to flourish, I’m betting that it was written that way on purpose in order to set up whatever comes next.

This is the second instalment in the Monk & Robot series. I strongly recommend reading it all in order as there were several important scenes in A Psalm for the Wild-Built that are critical to understanding the character development.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy made me yearn for more.

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned! 

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a robot, a person pedaling their travelling home, many plants, and winding paths on it. Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1)

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology. It is nothing like the religions or theologies of our world, though, which I will explain in my review.

If peaceful science fiction is your thing, look no further.

Sibling Dex was one of the most unusual characters I’ve met in a long time. They were an agender tea monk who had already changed their occupation several times and were still not satisfied with it. The desire to learn more about the world was relentless in them even though humanity had created a utopian existence in which half of the land was reserved for wildlife sanctuaries and the other half was carefully managed to provide for everyone’s basic needs. I was intrigued by how this character reacted the changes they brought upon themselves as well as the ones they never could have predicted.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the plot itself in this review. I’m purposefully writing this very carefully in order to avoid any spoilers, but I also want potential readers to know that the plot wasn’t as well-formed as I would have liked it to be. Sibling Dex went on a journey into the wilderness to find answers to their existential questions, but that storyline never quite coalesced in the way I hoped it would. As this appears to be the beginning of a series, I’m hoping that the sequel or sequels will be more assertive in seeking out answers for this character and giving them more conflict to deal with. I loved meeting them and having such a gentle introduction to their unique world, but I was a bit disappointed by how everything suddenly ended for them in the final scene with so many questions still left unanswered.

This story includes numerous references to religion and philosophy, but they bear little if any resemblance to what people in our world think of when they use those terms. Yes, Sibling Dex was a monk as I mentioned earlier, but their religious beliefs and practices were almost wholly centred on their own behaviour as opposed to worrying about what others did. You will find no threats of eternal punishment, long lists of rules to follow, or harsh judgements of non-believers here. That wasn’t how Sibling Dex behaved about at all, and I found it incredibly refreshing. They simply wanted to be the best monk they could be, and their journey was in part related to how their faith and their understanding of philosophy might be able to help them figure out what to do next with their restless soul.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a breath of fresh air.

The Healer: A Review of Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil by Lea Doué book cover. Image on cover shows a young woman wearing a black cloak and touching her Hans as she walks through a deserted forest on a slightly foggy day. TitleSweet Basil – A Firethorn Chronicles Short Story

Author: Lea Doué

Publisher: Butterwing Publishing (Self-Published)

Publication Date: August 30, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Historical

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Hiding from sorcerer hunters, Marisol travels in search of those she can help with her dangerous gift of healing. With every life she saves comes the risk of being discovered, but only if her secret doesn’t destroy her first.

Sweet Basil is a stand-alone short story set in the world of The Firethorn Chronicles, a series drawn from The Twelve Dancing Princesses and other fairytales.

Review:

Content Warning: Pain and  life-threatening illnesses. I will not mention them in my review.

Would you continue using your powers for good even if doing so put you in terrible danger?

I’d never read a tale about a magical tattoo, and the idea excited me as soon as it was introduced in one of the very first scenes. The person who had that tattoo knew that it was something incredibly special that not everyone around them would understand, so they had to take measures to prevent others from noticing that their tattoo could do things like move around of its own accord. I’m dancing around this subject a little to avoid spoilers, but I was impressed by how creatively the author explained this portion of the plot. It made me think about tattoos in an entirely new light, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much this item affected the course of the storyline.

It would have been helpful to have more world building. No, I didn’t expect the author to explain everything, especially since it was a prequel that was primarily meant to whet the appetites of new readers for more. With that being said, there were a few scenes I found confusing because of how little time was spent explaining what the rules of magic are in this universe and how someone can reasonably expect a magical object to behave when it is used. I simply didn’t know enough about those matters to tell if items like the tattoo were acting out of the ordinary or not.

One of my favorite things about this story was how it depicted Marisol and Renzo’s friendship. Many storytellers, especially in the fantasy genre,  immediately assume that any two characters who are single and who share compatible sexual orientations must end up in a relationship together no matter how much this may or may not make sense for their individual character arcs or for the plot as a whole. Given this trope, it was refreshing to see how the author handled their friendship and where she took it. Her decisions made sense for for what I know thus far about the characters and the plot. Obviously, I can’t say how the rest of the series will develop from here as I haven’t read it yet, but I appreciated what’s been done with it up until this point.

This is a prequel to a series. It can be read as a standalone work.

Sweet Basil – A Firethorn Chronicles Short Story made me smile. 

Sensing Something Wrong: A Review of The Wendigo

The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a horned, hairy creature standing on it’s back feet. It looks like a large goat. Title: The Wendigo

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Eveleigh Nash

Publication Date: 1910 (and republished on April 21, 2022)

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Historical

Length: 74 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” tells the story of a camping trip in the Canadian wilderness that goes horribly wrong when the hunters become the hunted. Drawing on the mythical creature known as the Wendigo, this story is regarded by many critics to be one of the best horror tales of all time.

Review:

Content Warning: Racism. I will discuss it in depth in my review.

Forests aren’t friendly to everyone.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored the various reactions people can have to being in the middle of the woods. What is peaceful and wholesome to one person could be mildly unsettling or even downright terrifying to another based on their previous experiences with nature and how much they know about all of the sounds that occur when one is in the middle of nowhere and can see nothing byt trees stretching out in every direction.

Horror doesn’t have to be gory or gross. There wasn’t single drop of blood in this tale, and yet it made me shudder all the same. I appreciated the slow buildup as the characters walked deeper into the woods and further away from anyone who might help them. That methodical pacing gave me plenty of opportunities to imagine what might happen next and to chew on the clues I’d already discovered. The slower and quieter scenes were exactly what the storyline needed in order to flourish. Some things are much scarier when they’ve been given time to marinate in your thoughts, and this is one of them.

I wanted to make note of the racism mentioned in the content warning. This story was written in 1910, and the author had some truly odd ideas about First Nations people and their mystical connection to nature that many white people of his era believed. In no way am I trying to excuse the offensive nature of those passages or his bizarre beliefs about how one’s race should influence what one does in the woods, only to say that the world has changed for the better since it was written and I think the author was trying to be complimentary with those descriptions based on the historical time in which he lived. While I am generally able to shake my head and ignore ridiculous stuff like this in old books, I did want to let my readers know about them in advance so you can come to your own conclusions about whether this is something you want to read.

With that being said, I loved what Mr. Blackwood did with his characters, especially Punk, a First Nations cook and guide for the group, later on in the storyline. Their character arcs were memorable and made a great deal of sense given what they found in the woods and how everyone reacted to that experience. It made me wonder what would have happened if Dr. Cathcart, the protagonist, had been more interested in cultures outside of his own. This was one of those cases where a little communication would have gone a long way, but certain cultural assumptions made that difficult. I found myself wondering how the storyline might have changed if it were instead told from the perspective of Punk after he realized that the white people he was accompanying through the woods had accidentally discovered something horrific.

The Wendigo was a delightfully chilling tale.

Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Title: Northern Gothic Stories Author: Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen Publisher: Dodecahedron Books Publication Date: December 19, 2012 Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Historical, Contemporary Length: 123 pages Source: I received a free copy from the authors. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Do you like stories featuring aliens, legendary monsters, psychic children, mysterious disappearances, gamblers, cheats,… Read More

A Review of Sail away, sail away, sail away: Nautical Ghost Stories

Title: Sail Away, sail away, sail away – Nautical Ghost Stories Author: William Macmillan Jones Publisher: Red Kite Publishing Ltd Publication Date: March 21, 2022 Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 32 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: The sea has always fascinated me, and I grew up with a… Read More

Changing Luck: A Review of Foreign Objects

Title: Foreign Objects Author: Joshua Scribner Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 24, 2015 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 7 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: A young outcast, his struggles to survive, and the crucial objects that come into his life. Review: Content Warning: Bullying, physical abuse of… Read More

A Review of Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story

Title: Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story Author: Glenn McGoldrick Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 25, 2018 Genres: Speculative Fiction, Contemporary Length: 19 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 2 Stars Blurb: A day in the life of a Casino Manager, working on a cruise ship in… Read More

Sounding Like a Train: A Review of Voices in the Wind

Title: Voices in the Wind Author: Joshua Scribner Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: December 15, 2017 Genres: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary Length: 6 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: A paranormal flash fiction story. Review: Content Warning: death and a tornado. I will discuss the tornado in my review.… Read More