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A Review of Confirm Humanity and Other Stories

Title: Confirm Humanity and Other Stories Book cover for Confirm Humanity and Other Stories by Ren Ellis. Image on over shows a drawing of a person with long, straight hair sitting on a banister and looking out at the cloudy, stormy red and yellow sky before them. You can see the bones in the person’s left arm and leg glowing through their black frame. Perhaps the bones are actually cybernetic? Or perhaps we’re looking at a sophisticated x-ray of this characters? It is unclear.

Author: Ren Ellis

Publisher: Port of Planets Publishing

Publication Date: March 27, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 44 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

“Ren Ellis’s Confirm Humanity and Other Stories is a collection…filled with questions, intrigue, tears, and hope. Ranging from familiar to fantastical, the settings and the characters are diverse. Readers will definitely enjoy the eclectic and fantastical stories in Ren Ellis’s Confirm Humanity and Other Stories , and the collection’s element of humanity will hit home, reminding us of the pivotal moments that define us.” – Readers’ Favorite ★★★★★ Confirm Humanity and Other Stories is a collection of twelve short stories by Ren Ellis. Primarily comprised of speculative fiction stories, this collection ranges from slice-of-life to the supernatural and beyond. Genres
This collection uses imaginary tales as a lens through which to see the very real threats and struggles of our time. Extreme flooding and Venice-like canals reshape the famous city of Paris in “Deluge.” The fairytale stepmother casts new light on old tales in “The Stepmother’s Story.” Monsters meet the Marie Kondo method in “Monsters Welcome.” Other stories explore the paranormal world of “Red Rain”; the cosmic courses of “The Time Garden”, “The Welkin Tree” and “Winter’s Last Breath”; the dystopian worlds of “Life” and “Recycled”; and cycles of hardship and hope that will resonate with adults of all ages.

Review:

Content Warning: Miscarriage, climate change, and unjust imprisonment. I will not be discussing these topics in my review.

This was like a sample platter of speculative fiction that included a little bit of everything to go around.

The tired stepmother of Rapunzel, Cindy, and Snow had a lot to say in “The Stepmother’s Story,” a modern-day twist on a few classic fairy tales. I appreciated the hard work she’d put into look after her stepchildren and thought it was only fair that her perspective of their relationships be given a chance to shine. This was a short piece that took advantage of every single word in it to paint a vivid picture of modern family life. It made me chuckle and was a good thing to read as I settled into this collection. I only wish the father had been given a chance to speak up, too.

There were times when I felt like these tales didn’t have enough in common with each other to be included in the same collection. They were all over the place as far as themes, writing styles, and messages go. While I certainly wouldn’t expect all or even most of them to repeat one another, it was a little disconcerting for me as a reader to leap from something lighthearted to much more serious and sometimes difficult themes just a few pages later.  This is something I’m saying as someone who has read, written, and reviewed speculative fiction for many years. Either approach is a valid one, but I would have preferred to have a better idea of what to expect next each time I flipped the page.

Many paranormal stories are – or at least try to be – frightening, so I enjoyed the humorous slant of the unnamed protagonist of “Dancing on Graves” finding amusement in watching her dead neighbours dance on their own graves after dark. This was another very short piece, but the power in it came from the single moment in time it captured and how the main character reacted to such a surprising and lighthearted event. The imagery in it was lovely, too, and I would happily read an entire book about these characters if one ever were to be written.

Confirm Humanity and Other Stories was a fun assortment of various types of speculative fiction.

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A Review of When Stars Move and Other Stories

Book cover for When Stars Move and Other Stories by Shannon Rampe. Image on cover is a photo taken of the night sky just after dusk. You see a thin strip of mountains and plain dirt at the bottom of the cover and then above it an expansive stretch of night sky, black on top and then slowly lighting up to a blue colour near the horizon where a little sunlight still remains but is quickly slipping out of sight for the evening. Title: When Stars Move and Other Stories

Author: Shannon Rampe

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 11, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 63 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A princess outside of time and history puts her trust in a rusty artifact instead of her treacherous family. The captain of a disintegrating war ship rushes toward a resolution for both human guilt and extreme augmentation. A young woman who has been “reignited” confronts a system that does not work at all in the way she has been conditioned to believe. In these three stories of death and rebirth, Shannon Rampe invites readers to immerse themselves in fantastic worlds and accompany their memorable characters on journeys of discovery and re-creation. Shannon Rampe’s work has appeared in Speculative City, Abyss & Apex, and on The Gallery of Curiosities podcast, amongst others. His hobbies include yoga and craft cocktail-making, though not (usually) at the same time.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder, sexism, religion, mental illness (post traumatic stress disorder), and genocide. I will not discuss any of these topics in my review.

Survival is about more than continuing to breathe.

I smiled at Anusha’s courage in ”When Stars Move.” As a princess, her freedom was virtually nonexistent, but she still had the urge to explore the world around her and learn as much about it as she could. The world building was handled nicely, especially when it came to how her Imam’s interpretation of how constellations moved across the night sky influenced everyone’s lives. I also enjoyed the conflict between Anusha’s inquisitive and stubborn personality with the pliant and obedient young woman she was expected to be.

Hermes, the dying warship in ”Ghost Parade,” made me curious to see what would become both of the ship itself as well as the heavily augmented protagonist. The most interesting part of this tale for me were the descriptions of how a small number of soldiers had received brain implants that allowed them to share thoughts and plan complicated battle techniques. This is one of the few tropes from militaristic science fiction that I find intriguing to think about. The melding of machines and human flesh was frightening enough, but using the violent result of it in order to better figure out how to wipe out entire civilizations made it even more horrifying for me. I will leave it up to other readers to discover how a soldier might cope with such an experience, but it it was thought provoking and made me think about the brutality of war even for the victors.

As interested as I was in the unique blending of religion and science in ”Reignition,” I struggled to emotionally connect with the characters. There wasn’t a great deal of time dedicated to character development or to describing what made the protagonist so interested in breaking the rules of her religious community, so I had a hard time predicting what Karma might do or say next. This pattern was repeated with everyone around her, too, which meant that I ended up being far more interested in the world building than in who lived in those settings or why certain topics were forbidden.

When Stars Move and Other Stories has piqued my curiosity about Mr. Rampe’s writing.

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Mistimed Meal: A Review of Vampire Fly

Book cover for Vampire Fly: A Samantha Moon Story by J.R. Rain. Image on cover is a closeup photo of a large, green fly sitting on a white surface. Title: Vampire Fly – A Samantha Moon Story

Author: J.R. Rain

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 4, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 28 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

She’s a horsefly who bit the wrong person—and now something very strange is happening to her.

Something very, very strange.

Not only can she fly faster and see further than ever before, but she has a weird craving for blood.

Her crazy new life has just begun.

That is, until she gets caught in a sticky web and stalked by a massive spider… a spider that’s about to get the surprise of its life…

Review:

Content Warning: A vampiric horsefly, insects eating each other, and an insect pregnancy and birth.

Flies have feelings, too.

Mr. Rain did an excellent job of exploring the logical conclusions of a horsefly accidentally becoming a vampire. Not only was this an imaginative story, it spent a lot of time digging into what horseflies might think and feel as they go about their usual business looking for food and, in this case, a safe place to lay their eggs. The vampiric twist to what should have been a pretty ordinary day only made everything even more interesting as the ecosystem is not exactly set up for a horsefly that is much stronger, faster, and more resilient than any other member of its species has ever been before. This opportunity to get a glimpse into the mind of a creature so unlike humans is one of the many reasons why I adore xenofiction, and this was a very good example of what that micro-genre can do.

I found myself wishing for more details about what happened to the horsefly’s babies. For example, did they inherit her supernatural abilities? Would future generations of this family be little vampires as well, or were her babies sterile like most human versions of this monster are? There was so much more the narrator could have done with this subplot, and I would have gone with a full five-star rating if a few additional paragraphs had been included that explained what their fates might have been.

With that being said, I did enjoy the ending quite a bit. The main character had been hurt by a spider in a previous scene, but many of the assumptions I’d made about what might happen next were turned on their heads in the most marvellous manner.  I must tip my cap to the author for pulling this piece in the direction he did. It has piqued my interest in what else might be going on in this universe and made me wonder if this is only the tip of the creative iceberg. As much as I wish I could go into more detail about the last few scenes, I don’t want to spoil anything for other readers as it was a great deal of fun to be surprised by what happened.

This is part of a series, but no prior knowledge of that world is necessary in order to understand what is happening here.

Vampire Fly was a memorable tale that made me curious to read more.

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Paranormal Business: A Review of Ghosted

Book cover for Ghosted - A Short Story by H.L. Burke. Image on cover shows a a drawing of the silhoutte of a black cat who is standing on a brick wall with its back arched under the light of a full moon. You can also see the branch of a nearby tree hanging over the cat. The branch has several leaves on it. Title: Ghosted – A Short Story

Author: H.L. Burke

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 15, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 18 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Ghosts thrive on fear, but Maisie just isn’t delivering. In fact, Lazarus isn’t even sure she realizes she’s being haunted.

When expert haunter, Lazarus Bently, receives a cry for help from a fellow ghost, he rushes to the chaotic cottage of eccentric artist Maisie. If Ghost HQ finds out Lazarus couldn’t get a rise out of this little old lady, he’ll never live it down.

With his professional pride on the line, can Lazarus get through to this unshakable woman? Or will this unbeaten scarer be the one quaking in his boots?

Review:

You don’t have to be a big fan of being scared to enjoy this one!

Artists aren’t easy to scare…especially someone as independent and creative as Maisie. I adored the descriptions of how she worked on her paintings and drawings in her cluttered and messy but also warm and inviting home. She was the sort of antagonist that I can’t help but to root for because she genuinely didn’t realize she was annoying her resident ghost at all. After all, who has time to worry about the spirit world and what it wants from the living when there are countless ideas out there to try to commit to paper or canvas? Her self-absorption was understandable given how quirky she was in general, and it also matched the ghosts’ frantic attempts to frighten her beautifully.

The world building was amazing as well. The author only had about eighteen pages to work with here, so it was impressive to see just how many descriptions of paranormal society and how the dead were expected to interact with the living she managed to pack into such a small space. While I would have happily read another few hundred pages about the complexities of it all, I was also content with what I was given and finished the last scene with a chuckle.

Speaking of the ending, it couldn’t have been better. This piece played around a lot with everyone’s expectations, including the ghosts, Maisie, and even those of us who participated in it simply by reading. I don’t want to share too many details and accidentally give away spoilers, but what I can say is that Ms. Burke is clearly well-versed in both the fantasy and paranormal genres and knew exactly how to tweak her plot twists to bring out the funniest aspects of being a ghost, being haunted, and even of wanting to read about a haunting gone terribly wrong in a silly, not tragic, sense of that phrase.

Ghosted – A Short Story was cozy, sweet, and hilarious.  If you need a palate cleanser between checking out more serious works, I highly recommend starting here.

 

This post was edited on March 31, 2024 to include a link to Berthold Gambrel’s review of it. He was inspired to try it by reading this post! 

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Small Town Woes: A Review of The Curse of Three

Book cover for Makepeace and Grimes: The Curse of Three: A Gaslamp Gothic Mystery of Victorian England by Kevin Partner. Image on cover shows a photograph of a middle-aged white man who has salt and pepper hair standing in a graveyard at night. He’s looking straight at the viewer with a serious expression on his face as if he just heard something strange there and wants to see if you heard it, too. He’s wearing a late 1900s-style hat that had a wide brim and is raised a little over his head. Title: The Curse of Three (Makepeace & Grimes Book 1)

Author: Kevin Partner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 4, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Historical

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Who would you choose to investigate the disappearance of three children?

A man and a vampire. Of course

It’s 1872.

Ichabod Grimes, mysterious defender of humanity, and his vampire friend Valentina, travel to a quiet village in Essex to find the missing children.

They uncover a sinister three hundred year plot that will see the return of a long forgotten evil.

Who is Ichabod Grimes? Find out now.

Review:

Content Warning: Kidnapping, a few mildly racist remarks,  and a few references to blood.

Rural doesn’t always mean peaceful.

One of the best things about this tale was how it explored life in a small village in 1872 and allowed readers to quietly compare it to how people behave in contemporary times. Obviously, there have been a lot of societal changes between then and now, but human nature has more or less remained the same. I smiled and shook my head as certain villagers showed fear and distrust of outsiders as the same thing continues to happen in many communities to this day. This pattern repeated itself a few times more and I continued to take note of how similar small towns – and people in general – often are to the way things were more than a hundred and fifty years ago.

I would have liked to see more clues included given the fact that it was a mystery (among other genres). While it’s certainly tougher to do so in the short story format given the limited amount of space an author has to work with, there weren’t enough hints about what was going on for me to come up with theories about who might have kidnapped the children or what they were planning to do with them. This meant that I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the ending as I could have been, although I did still enjoy seeing how Ichabod went about interviewing everyone and trying to piece things together. There is a sequel to this, so my hope is that it and any future instalments will dive much more deeply into the mystery storylines as I liked everything else about this universe.

This was my first introduction to Mr. Partner’s work, and I immediately liked his straightforward and sensible writing style. He seems to be the sort of writer who only describes people and things in detail if those descriptions push the plot forward in some way or if they’re otherwise necessary in order to understand what’s going on. While I do appreciate more flowery writing styles on occasion as well, this minimalist choice suited this particular tale nicely. Something tells me that Ichabod would have approved of a no-nonsense account of his first mystery as well. Perhaps this is one thing that the protagonist and the author share in common? At any rate, it worked and I’m glad it was written this way.

The Curse of Three was a quick, fun read.

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A Review of Tucker vs. The Apocalypse

Book cover for Tucker Vs. The Apocalypse by Jay Allen Storey. Image on cover shows a photorealistic painting of a golden retriever standing alone on a wet street in the evening sun with city skyscrapers behind him. Title: Tucker Vs. The Apocalypse

Author: Jay Allan Storey

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 1, 2023

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 125 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Lost and alone amid the ashes of a dead civilization

Household pet Tucker is thrust into an apocalyptic world when not only his own ‘master’, but all of humanity, are stricken with a deadly plague. The disease is fatal in almost one hundred percent of cases, but affects only humans, leaving empty cities and towns that are quickly being repopulated with domestic animals and wildlife.

Tucker eventually connects with a group of other former pets. Deprived of their human caretakers, and guided by the mysterious Web of Life, Tucker and his ‘pack’ must learn to fend for themselves, confronting cold and blinding snow, blistering heat, the threat of starvation, ferocious predators, and the violent remnants of humanity as they search for a new home.

Review:

Content Warning: pandemic, robbery, human and animal deaths from both natural and violent causes, murder, animal attacks, plane crash, car crash, (animal) pregnancy and (animal) birth. I will not talk about any of these topics in my review.

Beloved pets generally aren’t taught many survival skills, and that’s a big problem in an apocalypse.

Tucker was an intelligent and sweet dog who I enjoyed getting to know. Mr. Storey did an excellent job of showing the world through canine eyes. Some things that utterly ordinary to humans can be mystifying to dogs and vice versa, so it was amusing to compare those two perspectives as Tucker either puzzled over the weird stuff humans do or assumed the audience was already aware of certain canine behaviours were honestly so obvious to him he barely felt the urge to explain them to the audience at all.

I was surprised by how many of the adult dogs in this story had not been spayed or neutered before the first scene began. It’s rare for that to happen in my social circles, so I was caught off-guard by later scenes that referenced what can happen when humans are no longer around to keep an eye on what their dogs are doing. It would have been nice to have even a brief explanation of how so many fertile pets were running around during an apocalypse.

The world building was excellent, especially considering the fact that it was filtered through the perspective of a dog who, as I stated earlier, had a wildly different opinion on what was most important to share than a human narrator would have mentioned. There was always enough information to know what was going on here, and I enjoyed the challenge of putting together the pieces of scenes that were intentionally written a little mysteriously as Tucker trotted off to sniff interesting scents or find reliable sources of food and water.

Tucker Vs. The Apocalypse was a wild ride.

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A Review of The Girls in Red

Book cover for The Girls in Red by BB Wrenne. There is no image on the cover. It’s simply bright red with the title written in a wavy yellow font and the author’s name in a smaller black font. Title: The Girls in Red

Author: BB Wrenne

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 3, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ+, Historical

Length: 21 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Two girls enter the woods on a journey to visit their fiances – a short story, also available as part of the collection Fabulas Part 2

Review:

Content Warning: Arranged marriages, an animal attack, and a small amount of blood.

Danger lurks everywhere in the forest.

While astute readers may have already guessed which famous fairy tale this was based on, I’m going to do my best not to give too many clues about it for anyone who prefers to be pleasantly surprised. I honestly haven’t seen this chosen for many retellings over the years, so I was excited to see how the author would reimagine what was a rather straightforward and short tale in its original form. Despite the many changes over the centuries, errands are still part of everyday life today. This includes trips to see places or visit people you might really rather not be visiting, and that mild but persistent sense of dread is as relevant now as it was many generations ago.

The ending was what lead me to choosing a three star review. After a fast-paced and atmospheric beginning and middle to this story, it suddenly ended without resolving the main conflict. There was so much more the author could have done with this, especially given the source material and how common it is for women who didn’t conform to the cultural expectations of women in the past or of this genre as a whole to still find places to thrive in the centuries and the forests in which they happen to live. If the final scene had been developed more thoroughly, I would have happily gone for a full five-star rating as I was thrilled with what I was reading up until that point.

I adored the romantic subplot. Yes, it moved forward rapidly, but the author was careful to explain why Ru and Thalia, who had known each other a very long time, were only now beginning to realize the depth of their feelings for each other. Given the era in which they lived, it made perfect sense for them to take as long as they did to talk about their feelings, much less entertain even the slightest notions of pursuing them. Slow-burn romances make perfect sense in circumstances such as these.

The Girls in Red was a thoughtful twist on a famous fairy tale.

 

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A Review of Who’s Haunting Whom

Book cover for Who’s Haunting Whom: A Ghost Story by Kenny Wayne. Image on cover shows two figures standing outdoors at night in front of an eerie blue-green light. The figures are wearing hooded cloaks and appear to be bending over to look at something, but it’s too dark to tell who or what they may be inspecting. Title: Who’s Haunting Whom

Author: Kenny Wayne

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 30, 2020

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Paranormal investigators, with years of experience, are called to the scene of a haunting. That’s their job and they do it well, but this time they’re just not sure Who’s Haunting Whom.

Fred Madison once experienced a life changing event… a haunting. That one event changed the course of his life. He now owns the Madison Paranormal Investigations Agency. His mission in life is to gather irrefutable evidence of the existence of ghosts and to help those that are being tormented by hauntings.

Harley Stinson has been around the block a few times himself. He has had his own experiences with ghosts and has worked with Fred ever since his first sighting.

Experienced as they both are, they have never experienced anything like the case they are about to undertake.

What if the homeowners that hired them aren’t whom they appear to be? What if the ghosts they’re supposed to remove aren’t whom they appear to be?

You’ll enjoy this short ghostly tale as you follow along with the investigators in their attempt to determine exactly what’s going on.

Review:

Content Warning: accidental death

Without trust they’ll have almost nothing at all.

I enjoyed the way this tale played around with the reader’s expectations of what was going on. Anyone who is well-read in the paranormal genre will probably be able to figure out what was happening early on, but putting those clues together was only the first step. Knowing why certain characters behaved the way they did was even more important and it took extra effort to untangle. People are endlessly interesting, and they were what made this worth reading in my opinion.

Linda Morgan, one of Fred and Harley’s clients, had a phobia that overshadowed the first scene but then was never mentioned again. I was confused by why something like this would be included if it wasn’t actually relevant to what was happening in that strange little house. There was a lot of space here to flesh out both her character as well as the storyline itself, so it was disappointing to me as a reader when it fizzled out instead.

The relationships between Fred and his employees was also well worth exploring. He seemed to have subconsciously arranged them in a particular order that did not always line up with how useful I thought they might be as he attempted to figure out what was actually happening with this case. As much as I would have liked to dive more deeply into the assumptions he made about which people would be most helpful, I also thought that leaving those moments the way they were revealed a lot about Fred’s character in both positive and negative ways. On the one hand, he was a decisive person, while on the other he was someone who could be too quick to brush an employee off if they didn’t fit his mental image of who he thought should be exploring that home. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, this would be a great mixture of traits to explore even more deeply.

Who’s Haunting Whom was a fun twist on the paranormal genre.

 

 

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A Review of Is Neurocide the Same As Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas

Book cover for Is Neurocide the Same as Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas (Spiral Worlds) by Alexandra Almeida. Image on cover shows what at first appears to be a closeup photo of cells under the magnification of a microscope. The cells are shaded pink, orange, yellow and red depending on where you look at them. They are crowded close together and the six on the outside are the usual, blobby cell shape and have a few of the structures of their insides visible due to the “staining” as well. The cell on the nside is about a third the size of the others and comprised of a few dozen squares that have been arranged into the shape of a heart. It looks boxy and like something out of Minecraft. Title:  Is Neurocide the Same As Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas (Spiral Worlds)

Author:Alexandra Almeida

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 28, 2023

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In a world grappling with the ethics of advanced technology and the haunting shadows of past genocides, “Is Neurocide the Same as Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas,” emerges as a thought-provoking short story set in 2068.

This story is a compelling blend of science fiction, historical reflection, and ethical debate. It challenges readers to confront a moral dilemma pondering the implications of new technology on human morality and the timeless struggle between power and empathy.

Note: this short story does not require previous knowledge of the Spiral Worlds series. If you have not started the series, you may start here. If you have started the series, read this story after Parity, Book 2.

SPIRAL WORLDS is a literary, sci-fi series for the fans of Becky Chambers’s A Closed and Common Orbit, Alex Garland’s DEVS and Ex Machina, and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Weaving near-future sci-fi elements with social commentary and queer romantic suspense, the SPIRAL WORLDS series explores the nature of consciousness and how it’s connected to a not-so-secret ingredient—story. As AI consumes the world, intelligence is nothing but the appetizer; the human heart is the main course.

Review:

Content Warning: mass murder, war, mental illness, child soldiers, brief references to rape (but no rapes are actually described).

Hurt people hurt people.

It was a little tricky for me to decide how many storyline details to share in this review without wandering too far into spoiler territory as the blurb could be vague at times. What I can say is that this is written from the perspective of a dead person, Gentille, who has been temporarily resurrected by her granddaughter, Estelle, in order to discuss a pressing ethical issue in 2068 that was created by the development of a new technology that could identify people with a specific and severe mental illness very early in life. Estelle wanted to know how this technology should be used and she hoped her grandmother would have some wisdom to share. I was immediately intrigued by the thought being able to talk to the dead and predict how a small child’s brain would develop decades in the future. These are both developments that could radically change human society for the better or the worse, and I kept pausing to consider the many different ways they could be used depending on who had access to them and what the intentions of those people might be.

While I understand that this is part of a series and that not everything can necessarily be included in one small instalment of it, I did find myself wishing that the narrator had spent more time on the world building given how important it was for how the plot would advance. There were times when I was slightly confused about how a specific machine worked or how certain details were intended to fit together. Having more context about life in 2068 would have gone a long way to help me understand it all and feel comfortable going for a full five-star review.

This tale started off in a rather grim place as is the case for a lot of – but certainly not all –  modern science fiction. Technology is a double-edged sword, and it only takes a handful of people to figure out how to misuse even the most brilliant tool. If the first few scenes make you want to stop reading, let me encourage you to keep going.  There are surprises to be found later on that turn much of the early imagery upside down. Knowing how terrible things were for Gentille as a young girl is imperative in order to understand why her mind works the way it does after her death. In the end, I was glad I stuck around to see what happened to her next.

Is Neurocide the Same As Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas was a thought-provoking introduction to this series. I look forward to reading more someday.

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Out of the Shadows: A Review of Apparition

Book cover for Apparition By Jacob Clawson. Image on cover is a black and white photo of a 1940s-style car sitting in an alleyway. Title: Apparition

Author: Jacob Clawson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 8, 2023

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 18 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Creaks and cracks clattered, shattering the air. Breaking through the darkness; they were trying to say something. Were they a code? Perhaps a message to somewhere or something? If it was a warning, what did it mean?
The city of London danced in laughter, sounds flourished; how alive it was. Though obviously unaware of what lay beyond in the harbor; creeping slowly, a rusty ship waited. Gliding through the murky water it made no waves, no sound. Yellow lights flickered inside with no life.
Three smokestacks rose from a deck of darkness, two broken in half. Shattered glass shimmered inside abandoned dining rooms and hallways in the moonlight. Old collapsed beds slept quietly inside passenger rooms. The ship cried out as it passed under a bridge, lights from the cars and lamps a-top flared as it crawled. The air grew thin and cold around the ship, freezing the top of the water behind it, crunching and popping as it moved.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder, Death

Decay is a necessary stage in the life cycle, but it can also be incredibly dangerous.

Xenofiction is one of my favourite little corners of the speculative fiction universe, so this tale caught my attention quickly. It takes imagination and courage to write non-human characters that do not think or behave anything like a person would under the same circumstances. I’d like to tip my cap to the author for taking risks with is writing and imagining what it might be like to be the city of London, a rotting ship in a pier, and a mysterious creature that stumbled out of the ship to see what it could find in the wider world. All three of these characters were creative and compelling.

The author warned that this was his first short story and that readers might find this story confusing in his preface. I agree that this was a confusing read, and I did find myself wishing that the paranormal themes had been explained better. For example, was the creature a ghost who suddenly found him or herself feeling restless and wanting revenge for being forgotten? Or maybe it was created out of the raw loneliness and decay of the abandoned ship? There were so many possibilities here, and I wish Mr. Clawson had spent more time giving his readers hints about how he’d interpret it.

With that being said, I really liked this tale’s message about the danger of possessing one small sliver of the truth but believing you know it all. None of the characters were aware of everything that was going on, and that put all of them in danger of either being harmed or of harming someone else. Humility isn’t something that’s explored as often in modern fiction as it was at certain points of the past, but it’s just as important now as it ever was. No one is omniscient (unless some gods happen to read this review), and everyone has blind spots that could make their lives difficult under the right circumstances.

Apparition made me curious to read more from this author. I’d like to welcome him to the experience of being an author and hope he’ll keep honing his skills for many years to come!

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