Tag Archives: 2010s

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.

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 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 ninth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Move the World

A room filled with levers In “Move the World” by Carla Speed McNeil, Margery must decide whether to take the risk of using her once-in-a-lifetime chance to pull a lever and reset the world. Whether pulling that lever will make things better or worse is unknown.

The world Margery currently lived in was cold and harsh. Everyone who survived in it had to make difficult decisions to ensure there was enough food and warmth for all. This included sticking to the rigid roles everyone was assigned from young ages.

I do wish these roles were described in greater detail. Individuals were called various parts of speech like Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives. Small groups of people were called Clauses or, sometimes, Sentences. I was fascinated by this social structure and wish the meaning of every designation was clearer.

This wasn’t the only possible life for Margery and the other folks in her world. I can’t describe the rest of them or how the audience learns about them without wandering deeply into spoiler territory, but I was fascinated by the many different among them. Each one was unique and made me want to keep reading.

There were so many things about Margery we never learned. I couldn’t begin to describe her age, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or backstory, although I wish they had been included whenever this information might have changed. What I can say is that her personality remained the same no matter what was going on around her.

She was always an intelligent and persistent person who believed that there was something better out there than what everyone was currently experiencing. The fascinating thing was that there was no evidence that supported this belief.

Perhaps she was wrong. Maybe pulling the lever would only make things worse for everybody.

And yet she continued to feel the irresistible compulsion to pull it. She was sure there was a better place out there somewhere.

Our world has seen a lot of suffering this year. I can’t help but to emulate Margery’s approach to situations that feel like they will either never end or will only get worse over time.

None of us know what the future holds, but that doesn’t mean we should ever give up hope that it will be better than our current circumstances.

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 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 eighth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Skin City

Kelly Robson’s Skin City was about a street performer named Kass who got into trouble after falling for a radical privacy devotee.

The futuristic world Kass lives in is set about 80 years in the future in a time when climate change has become strong enough to seriously damage cities. Toronto and any other city that wished to survive had long since erected domes over themselves to keep violent, seasonal storms from flattening their historic buildings.

woman wearing virtual reality goggles
They might have looked something like this but larger.

This naturally meant that humans were crammed into much smaller spaces than many folks know in 2020.

To compensate for constantly being surrounded by strangers, some wealthy people in this universe have decided to wear a sort of electronic helmet over their head when they leave home that digitally erase other people in their line of sight and hide the owner’s facial expressions from strangers, too.

The reason why people who wore visors would want to hide their facial expressions is something best discovered by new readers for themselves. It was explained thoroughly and satisfactorily.

I enjoyed reading about these sociological and technological changes. They seemed like things that could easily happen to future generations given what life is like in 2020. I’ve known some people who gave up on social media for privacy reasons and many others who are painstakingly careful about what they post there.

Given the right technology, I can see a lot of people opting out of being seen by others, especially if they’re living in a cramped city that no longer has the resources to give people much personal space at all.

As for Kass? She wasn’t one of those folks who were wealthy enough to afford a status symbol like that by any means. Her income barely covered the necessities, and she definitely wasn’t someone who was thought of highly by the authorities. In fact, when the audience first met her she was in jail and looking at the possibility of spending the rest of her life there.  That’s the sort of detail that will keep me reading for sure!

The ending was well done, too. I would have liked to see more foreshadowing done for it so that readers would have a hint of what was to come when the earlier scenes continued to grow bleaker, but I enjoyed the twist when it was finally revealed. Honestly, it was the only logical outcome of everything that had been established about Kass and her society earlier on.

Now I know you’re all wondering how a story about a character who was incarcerated and deeply in love with someone who ordinarily would never interact with her could possibly be hopeful.

There was a time right before the final scene when I was tempted to stop reading. It didn’t seem possible for there to be a cheerful ending when Kass had so many things stacked against her pursuit of happiness.

The beautiful thing about the Better Worlds series is that it doesn’t require perfection from its characters, settings, or plot twists. In fact, some of the best stories in this online anthology so far have come from the most unlikely places in my opinion.

While this wasn’t my favourite story in this collection, it was a solid one.

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Title: A Tale of Two Princes Author: Victoria Pearson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 1, 2014 Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Length: 36 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling. Doctor Prinze is happy… Read More

Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

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.… Read More