Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Northern Gothic Stories by Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows green and yellow Northern Lights in the sky at night over a flat plain. There are a few mountains in the distance, too. 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, murderers and perhaps old Beelzebub himself? Of course you do – who could resist?

Join two story tellers, a husband and wife team, while they spin pairs of yarns with similar themes and premises, but diverging and surprising plots. Which will you prefer? Take the plunge into the icy world of Northern Gothic Stories and find out for yourself.

Our first pair of stories, “The Magnetic Anomaly” and “The Boathouse Christ” involve tranquil northern lakes and the paranormal mysteries lurking below placid surfaces.

Our second set, “Beyond the Blue Door” and “A Dark Horse” feature mysterious disappearances, which might be natural, but more likely supernatural.

Our final set, “Take me out to the Ballgame” and “The Stalkers” deal with decidedly natural horrors – serial killers, their victims, and third parties who might be one or the other.

Though our stories have northern locales, they might happen anywhere; perhaps even in your quiet town.

Please note that these stories may contain scenes that some readers might find disturbing.

The six stories are each about 6000 words, for a total of about 36000 words. Each can be read in about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Review:

Content Warning: murder, blood, stigmata, emotional abuse, rape, incest, and references to the crucifixion of Christ. I will briefly discuss the sexual and emotional abuse in my review but will not go into graphic detail about them. I will not mention the rest of these topics.

Now is the perfect time to dig into Canadian stories.

In “The Magnetic Anomaly,” a geophysicist named Alex was flown to a remote location in the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories for twelve weeks in order to take a magnetic survey with a small group of fellow experts and investigate something odd that was happening up there. I was surprised by how much foreshadowing was included here, and I wondered why the characters didn’t pay closer attention to it. With that being said, this was still an enjoyable read. The Canadian tundra was an excellent setting for such a mysterious experience.

The title of ”The Boathouse Christ” grabbed my attention immediately. Imagine finding a wooden image of Christ in a boathouse of all places! Terese, the 14-year-old daughter of the couple who had recently purchased the boathouse, prayed to the image which I thought was an intrigued touch given how that scene was used later on. There was a fairly large cast of characters in this tale, but they all played important roles in both the storyline as well as the author’s wholesome point about what a “real” Canadian in Northern Ontario should look and sound like. It was well worth the time I took to get to know all of them even though I was a little overwhelmed at first. I loved seeing so many perspectives on why some Canadian immigrants don’t feel like they fit in here at first, too.

I have previously reviewed ”A Dark Horse“ and so will not repeat my thoughts about it here.

Jenny was a lonely girl growing up in an emotionally and sexually abusive home in “Beyond the Blue Door” who vividly imagined stepping through a blue door to cope with her trauma. I must be honest here and say this was a tough read due to the subject matter. There was nothing I wanted more than to step into her world and help her escape it. Anyone who is able to read about such terrible things will discover a wonderful surprise at the end, though, so don’t give up if the beginning is difficult.

As soon as Reggie spotted Alison jogging past him in ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” he was intrigued by her. I could see where this story was headed early on. Due to how easy it was to predict what would happen next and how disturbed I was by the content, I did not enjoy this piece. It was also hard for me to understand why certain characters did not pick up on red flag behaviour much earlier on in the storyline. This did not seem to fit their previous patterns of behaviour and so it confused me.

It was a dark and stormy night when Steve, a Toronto security guard, began planning his next murder in “The Stalkers.” I was wary of where this tale was going due to my dissatisfaction with the previous one that shared a similar theme. While this storyline included more plot twists, I still found myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how some of the characters reacted to unexpected events. The earlier descriptions of them once again didn’t match their later behaviour. Just like with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it  would have been helpful to have more character development so that I could tell if they were behaving in ways that were out of the ordinary for them or if these were simply parts of their personalities that hadn’t been revealed yet.

Northern Gothic Stories was an interesting mixture of Canadian fiction.

Side Effects: A Review of The Visitor

The Visitor by Mark Lawrence book cover. Image on cover shows a woman bent backwards with a mostly-sheer veil converting her face and torso. Title: The Visitor

Author: Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 18, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 48 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A stand alone short story that originally appeared in Book 26 of the Wild Cards universe.

The only thing you need to know is that Wild Cards is set in our world, and an alien virus has been infecting people in rare outbreaks. It kills 90% of victims, makes ugly monsters of 9% (Jokers) and gives 1% random superpowers (Aces).

A very personal short story that I’m proud of and want to find a wider audience for.

This story is quite personal to me as my youngest daughter is severely disabled and I’ve attempted to give her representation in the Wild Cards world in a way that doesn’t simply overwrite disability with super-ability, but combines the two. A follow-up story, The Visitor: Kill or Cure, can be found for free on the Tor.com website.

By giving away this story for free I am hoping to interest new readers in the Wild Cards universe.

Review:

Content Warning: Pandemic (but not Covid-19), ableism, physical abuse, emotional abuse, attempted murder.

A strong imagination is a gift.

I was impressed with how seamlessly this book blended its science fiction and fantasy elements together. While the science fiction themes did appear first, it didn’t take long at all for that to change. The inexplainable things that happened to Angela, the protagonist, hovered between these genres, although they dipped into the fantasy explanations for how everything worked a little more later on in the storyline. Viruses can do all sorts of strange things to a person, so it made sense to me to leave plenty of room for magical or mythical plot twists as well as share with the audience what scientists had discovered about this plague. Who says you have to pick one answer over the other, after all?

It would have been nice to have more character development. Angela showed some promising signs of personal growth, but I found many of the supporting characters to be pretty two-dimensional. While I wouldn’t expect them to be as well-developed as they might have been in a full-length work, there was definitely room for improvement here. This was especially true for the care workers who mistreated Angela and the other residents of their nursing home.

Speaking of the main character, I found it very interesting to figure out what she knew about the world she lived in given how difficult it was for her to travel or move her own body. She was incessantly curious about the lives of her fellow residents as well as the lives of the workers who looked after them, and she did everything she could to gather any scraps of information that she might overhear from someone else’s conversation or a news story playing on the television. Some of the scenes explored the various types of abuse that are inflicted upon people who are disabled far too often. As tough as it was to read those scenes, they provided even more clues about Angela’s fascinated with the outside world and why she was so keen to learn more about it.

This is part of a series, but it works perfectly well as a standalone story.

The Visitor was a thought-provoking read.

Unexpected Results: A Review of Untethered

Untethered by Nick Stephenson book cover. Image on cover show outer space. The top half of the stars are in a blue cluster and the bottom half are in a red cluster. Title: Untethered

Author: Nick Stephenson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 24, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2 Stars

Blurb:

When a scientist discovers the secret to teleportation, he struggles to figure out what to do with it.

This short story is a love letter, of sorts, to what is commonly referred to as “The Golden Age” of science fiction – the heady days of the 1930s – 1960s where spaceflight had only just become more than a dream and the possibilities seemed endless. I hope you enjoy my take on it.

Review:

Content Warning: Deaths of lab animals.

Inventing can be tricky business.

Teleportation is one of those topics that used to be covered regularly in the science fiction genre but is rare enough to find these days that I always perk up when I read a blurb that references it. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that described how the protagonist and his assistant discovered how to transport living creatures across long distances in the blink of an eye. Their original theories about how to do it were solid, but it certainly took them a great deal of time to translate theories into something safe, effective, and profitable. I smiled as I read about the joy they shared when all of their hard work paid off. That scene was somehow by far the most relatable of them all even though teleportation isn’t actually possible in our world yet.

As intrigued as I was by the premise of this short story, were some massive plot holes in it. One of them involved the development of the teleportation machine the main character spent so much time talking about, and the other involved the twist ending. It struck me as odd for such an intelligent and passionate protagonist to gloss over how he expanded a small prototype into something that could be safely used on adult human beings. While I can’t say much about the ending for spoiler reasons, it also contained inconsistencies that seemed quite out of character for a protagonist who had devoted his life to scientific research. I really wish these portions of the storyline had been explained in greater detail as I desperately wanted to give this a higher rating!

Science hasn’t always been used for wholesome purposes, especially when the original creators of a device, drug, or other work are no longer fully in control of who does and doesn’t have access to it. My favourite moment happened when the narrator realized some of the more sinister applications for his invention long after he lost the ability to have a say in how it was used. His reaction to that moment was a tiny slice of the resolution, but it made all of the portions of it I cannot discuss in my review even more poignant. One of the reasons why I enjoy science fiction so much has to do with how it can coax an audience to think about serious, real-world issues like these that we might otherwise not think about, and on that note the author’s message certainly thrived.

Untethered was a wild ride.

Fixing Everything: A Review of Solaria

Title: Solaria Solaria by Thomas Volz 

Author: Thomas Volz

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: June 7, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 42 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

After encouraging his savant daughter to build a theoretical time machine, Eduardo Solmar scrambles to complete the project after Elishia mysteriously vanishes. His tampering with time reveals more about his future and the dangers of ripping the fabric of the space-time continuum.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder and grief.

If you’ve ever wished you could change the course of events of one single day, this might be right up your alley.

The character development was handled nicely, especially considering the fact that this was a short story and the author had limited time to show how memorable his characters were. I’m always thrilled to find authors who can pull that off with this form of writing. It isn’t easy, but it’s so rewarding when it does happen. Eduardo and Elishia both had unexpected layers to their personalities that were slowly revealed throughout their journey to build and use a time machine. I enjoyed getting to know them and would be thrilled to see a sequel if one is ever written.

While this was the sort of short story that works best if the twists in it are revealed quickly, it would have been helpful to have a little more world building along the way. I could easily picture Eduardo and his daughter Elishia because of how much effort was put into describing their physical appearances as well as their personalities. If only I could say the same thing about the setting! There was space here to dive into that topic, and I would have gone with a full five-star rating if the author had done so. Everything else about this tale was exciting and interesting.

With that being said, the ending was fantastic. It caught me off-guard at first, but I soon put all of the pieces together. I actually enjoyed feeling that mild sense of confusion while it lasted because of how nicely foreshadowed it ended up being and how well it suited the arc of the plot once I thought about it for a few moments. This was the sort of conclusion that the science fiction genre was meant for, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with it.

Solaria made me yearn for warm, summer days and for seeing if science fiction’s theories about time travel will someday turn out to be anything like what actual time travel might be like.

Learning to Be Good: A Review of The School for Good Mothers

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan book cover. Image on cover shows a pink wall with a long, dark corridor in the middle of it. Title: The School for Good Mothers

Author: Jessamine Chan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: January 4, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Contemporary

Length: 336 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Review:

Content Warning: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, child abuse, child neglect, kidnapping, mental illness, and suicide. I will briefly mention the abuse and mental illness in my review.

What does it mean to be a decent parent, and who should decide how and when to judge the parenting of others?

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored the science fiction elements of the plot. This school wasn’t like anything we have in our world, although it did take a while for the fantastical elements of it to make themselves known. I was eager to figure out how the scientific advancements that were described there worked and if they would accomplish the goals that the program was designed to pursue. Every new revelation only made me yearn to learn even more. As much as I want to gush about this topic in great detail, it’s best if other readers discover everything for themselves.

This tale needed more character development. The act that lead to Frida being sent to The School for Good Mothers was so bizarre that I was disappointed by how little time was spent exploring why she did it when she had so many other options available to her. It was a pattern that repeated itself after she was sent to the school and began getting to know the other mothers there. The audience learned the reasons why everyone had ended up there, but we really didn’t’ get to know the characters well as individuals. Nearly their entire identities were swallowed up by what they did, why that made them terrible mothers, and how they were learning to be better. I did wonder if this might have been purposefully written this way to make a point about how women are expected to subsume all of their desires, hopes, and dreams to parenthood, With that being said, text never really made that clear, and I struggled to emotionally connect with the characters because of how tricky it was to get to know them as individuals.

I was impressed by the attention the author paid to how race, social class, sex, mental health, and other factors affected how parents were judged in this universe. Not only were the rules much less stringent for folks who were white, male, able-bodied, and wealthy, breaking them had far fewer negative consequences as well. This book did a wonderful job of exploring the nuances of intersectionality and showing how the system set some people up for success and others for failure from day one. If it had continued to focus on this instead of veering off into other directions, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

It was also confusing to me to see how many different types of mothers were sent to the same school. Some of them were found guilty of things that weren’t even examples of abusive or neglectful parenting. They could easily be explained away as cultural or parenting philosophy differences. Other parents were an entirely different story, though, and I actually ended up agreeing with the authorities that those specific mothers were too dangerous to currently have custody of their children due to issues like serious physical abuse. This isn’t to say I necessarily thought they should lose custody permanently, only that it was really odd to me to group the small number of them who needed extensive help in with parents who left dirty dishes in their sinks or let their children walk a few blocks away to the local library. While i understood the point the author was making about the grossly unfair expectations society places on mothers that is often poisoned by racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, it simply didn’t make sense to me from a storytelling perspective to group everyone together like this. Surely the authorities should have been smarter than that and at least assigned characters to different classrooms or treatment modules based on the severity of their convictions.

The ending was well written. It was the logical outcome of everything Frida had experienced and learned during her year at the School for Good Mothers. I enjoyed looking back and taking note of the foreshadowing that had been shared earlier, too. The author struck a nice balance between hinting at what was to come to the audience without giving us too many clues about everything she had up her sleeves. A sequel would be nice, but I also felt satisfied by how the main storylines were resolved and what probably happened to the characters after the end of the last scene.

The School for Good Mothers was a thought-provoking read.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Favourite Book Genre and Why

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. The best I could do was to narrow my answer to this week’s prompt down to two different answers. I’ve loved the speculative fiction genre since… Read More

Stay Home, Stay Safe: A Review of The Machine Stops

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:  – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier  – talk about it online sometime in January  – have fun If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month,… Read More

Suspicious Town: A Review of The Dunwich Horror

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:  – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier  – talk about it online sometime in January  – have fun If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month,… Read More

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

Title: Christmas Presence Author: Tony Bertauski Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 31, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Holiday Length: 25 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Worst Christmas ever. Christmas was about traditions. Currently, Zay and her mom had about five traditions, things like gingerbread… Read More

Quiet Lessons: A Review of Foresight

Title: Foresight Author: Matilda Scotney Publisher: Off the Planet Books (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 21, 2021 Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Length: 61 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   Starlight, star bright, The very first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I… Read More