Tag Archives: Science Fiction

A Review of The Teller of Stories

Book cover for The Teller of Stories by A.E. Albert. Image on cover shows a full moon shining brightly against a starless night sky. The sky is filled with a thick layer of clouds that hide the stars and even dim the light of the moon itself. Title: The Teller of Stories

Author: A.E. Albert

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 12, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Length: 13 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

The old woman has only one purpose in her little village- to tell stories. It is an important task and necessary to ease the overburdened people of The Chain. She tells many tales. Some are history and others only myth. But one night, she tells a story. An ancient story. A story about impossible times and events. Is it only a tale from the demented imagination of an old woman or the startling history of a people’s doomed past?

Review:

Content Warning: Nuclear war

Truth comes in many different forms.

This is one of those short stories that I have to review carefully in order to avoid sharing spoilers, but I loved the way Ms. Albert played around with the idea that even the wildest legends might not be as far fetched as you’d think. The old woman had grown so old, frail, and physically infirm that her only real role in her village was to pass on the folklore she’d been taught as a child. It’s up to you as a reader to determine what really happened, and I relished that opportunity.

My favourite scenes were the ones that described scientific advances we are well acquainted with today in such flowery terms that it took a moment to sort out how those details had changed over many generations of storytelling. While the main character lived in a culture that highly valued their oral traditions and were meticulous about making sure every story was passed down correctly, there are still certain things that don’t always translate smoothly between what a tiny agrarian society has access to versus what an large industrial one can create.

I also appreciated the way the author wrote for a teenaged audience while steering clear of many of the overused tropes of young adult science fiction. Similar tales have been told before, of course, but it still felt fresh and interesting to me. In short, don’t let that label scare you off if you generally prefer adult fiction. This transcended the boxes it was written to fit into, and it was an excellent introduction to Ms. Albert’s work for me. I will definitely be keeping at eye out for what she comes up with next.

Let’s see how I can share this one final compliment without giving away massive spoilers. Just when I thought all of my most important questions had been answered, the final page delivered one last plot twist that made me grin. It was something I’d briefly wondered about earlier, but I hadn’t actually thought the narrator was going to go through with it. Isn’t it amazing when that happens?

The Teller of Stories was delightful.

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A Review of The First Kiss

Book cover for The First Kiss by Greg Krojac. Image on cover shows a closeup photograph of a black woman who is staring seriously at the audience with the tiniest smile on her lips. Her skin in glowing near a small light in an otherwise dark room. Title: The First Kiss

Author: Greg Krojac

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 16, 2020

Genres: Horror, Science Fiction

Length: 28 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A night that begins with Daniel and Melody sharing a romantic meal at a swanky restaurant culminates in a disturbing discovery.

Review:

Content Warning: Grief and brief references to Covid-19, blood, and gore.

Rules are meant to be followed, right?

The character development was perfect for something of this length. Obviously, there’s not as much space to explore anyone’s personalities in twenty-eight pages as there would be in a full-length novel, but I thought the author did a good job of sharing enough about Daniel and Melody’s tragic pasts to explain why they would be willing to take such a big risk together. Grief can make someone do all sorts of things that they probably wouldn’t think to do otherwise.

As much as I wanted to give this story a higher rating, there were too many things about it that I found far-fetched even for the horror and science fiction genres. For example, the way people consumed food in this futuristic world was wildly different from how the vast majority of us do so right now. It was so out of the ordinary that it pulled me out of the storyline as I came up with several alternatives that would have been more rational for them.  This pattern was repeated a few more times as more about the main characters’ lives was revealed. I know this is vague, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers while still sharing my reasons for choosing a three star rating. If only the plot holes had been given more time to resolve themselves.

With that being said, I was intrigued by the world building. Melody and Daniel live in a place and time that was heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though many years have since passed, their culture remembers those terrible days vividly and have not forgotten any of the horror of it. There were only brief mentions of Covid-19 in this tale which I thought was a good choice. Alluding to it was more than enough given the fact that it’s still such an intimate and terrible part of many people’s lives today.

The First Kiss was creative.

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No Easy Way Out: A Review of Take Care of Your Body

Book cover for Take Care of Your Body by Elton Gahr. Image on cover shows two mostly-leafless trees that have been trimmed to look like two faces looking at each other. A few leaves are flowing from one tree to the next against a cloudy winter sky. Title: Take Care of Your Body

Author: Elton Gahr

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 2, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 18 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Frank is a new kind of personal trainer. The kind that switches bodies with the ultra rich so they can get the benefits of working out without the effort. But his new client has done the unthinkable, escaping with Frank’s body while leaving Frank to answer for his crimes.
Now Frank has to track down his own body and force his client to return it before the FBI can catch him.

Review:

Shortcuts can make life easier…if all goes well.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that described how careful Frank was when exercising in other people’s bodies. Exercise is one of those things that can be a great deal of fun, a terribly dull chore, or something in-between those two extremes depending on the person involved and what types of movement they actually enjoy doing. Observing Frank’s reaction to his work was fascinating. He respected his clients and did everything he could to help them slowly become stronger and healthier while he was in control of their bodies. It was nice to see how much he cared about perfect strangers.

I had some trouble understanding what was happening in the final scene and needed to read it over again a couple of time to make sure I understood what the author was trying to say. Part of this was due to a character who wasn’t very good at thinking through the logical conclusions of his actions. While he was an interesting person who needed to be written that way for other portions of the storyline to flow nicely, I did find myself wishing for a clearer description of what was happening in that last scene so that both he and I could figure out what was going on there.

The world building was well done. There wasn’t a great deal of time to explain how this mysterious conscious-swapping technology worked given that the author only had eighteen pages to work with, but he explained enough about it for me to understand the basics. Honestly, that was all that was needed before Frank’s dilemma began, so I was happy to quickly move on to how he was going to get his stolen body back before it was too late.

Take Care of Your Body was a wild ride.

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Second Chances: A Review of Building Beauty

Book cover for Building Beauty by Rachel Eliason. Image on cover shows a close-up shot of the eye, eyebrow, and skin beneath the eye of a wooden robot that’s been designed to look human. The eye has a purple-blue iris that is quite unique. Title: Building Beauty

Author: Rachel Eliason

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 29, 2012

Genres: Science Fiction, Romance, LGBTQ, Historical

Length: 33 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

In the waning days of World War One, Alejandro Faidosky is sent to serve the Tsar in a distant corner of the Russian Empire. In the industrial center of Chelyabinsk, deep in southern Siberia Alejandro discovers a factory producing “automatons”, clockwork robots. His job is to sculpt a robotic prostitute for the common soldier. “Of all the men in Mother Russia I must be the most ill equipped for this assignment” Alejandro moans to himself, but he must not let Major Dmitri know, and he must somehow build beauty.

Review:

Content Warning: Grief and prostitution.

Assumptions make the world go around.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored the difference between what certain characters thought the world should be like and how it actually was. Yes, I know I’m being vague there, but this is one of those themes that is best left for new readers to fully explore for themselves. There’s nothing like reaching the ending of a paragraph or scene and suddenly realizing what the protagonist was hinting at earlier or what the author might have been gently nudging the readers to think about with some well-placed comments about the world we live in. I enjoyed those moments and hope other readers will as well.

Alejandro was such an intelligent, cautious, and thoughtful person that I struggled to understand why he chose the unusual design he did for the robotic prostitute he was building. That decision did not fit in well with everything else I’d learned about him. It would have been understandable for him to privately dream about a robot that he found appealing, but openly revealing such information was an entirely different story for that era. I wish this had been explored in greater depth so that I could better understand why he took this risk and what he hoped to gain from it. There was so much more the author could have done with Alejandro in this regard.

This is something I’m saying as a reader who usually has a strong preference non-romantic speculative fiction, but the author blended together the fantasy and romance genres together in this tale perfectly.  The storyline genuinely needed both of them, and I loved seeing how they strengthened each other and kept the characters moving along briskly to their destinies. It was my first time reading Ms. Eliason’s work, and her creative approach to how she mixed these genres together makes me want to read more from her as soon as possible.

Building Beauty was a romantic and inventive read.

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Better Days: A Review of The Old Mountain Biker

Book cover for The Old Mountain Biker by Robert Adamson. Image on cover shows a bike rider sitting on their bike on the edge of a cliff at sunset. They are looking over the edge of the cliff at the ground far below them. There is a pine forest in the distance. Title: The Old Mountain Biker

Author: Robert Adamson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 10, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 28 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In this SciFi short story, an old mountain biker encounters aliens from another planet that rescue him after a fall. They cure his injuries but also restore his youth. 
Then they offer a similar gift to the entire planet, but with conditions.

Review:

Content Warning: A bike accident that causes a minor injury.

Everything is going be okay.

The main character was an intelligent and resourceful man who thought through his decisions carefully. He was exactly the sort of levelheaded person I’d hope would represent all of us during first contact with beings from another planet. I immediately formed a warm and positive opinion of him and would have loved to know more about him.  It’s nice to click with a protagonist that quickly!

My only criticism has to do with the character development. There wasn’t a great deal of it in this story due the short length of this piece and how much time the author needed to devote to explaining what the aliens wanted from humanity and what they hoped to get from us, too. I would have gone for a higher rating if there had been more character development, and I hope the next instalment in this series gives me the opportunity to do just that!

One of the other things I appreciated about this short story had to do with how the aliens were portrayed. Too often, science fiction assumes that our first meeting with aliens will be violent or unpredictable, so it was refreshing to have a story in which nothing like that occurred. I can’t say much else about the plot without giving away spoilers, but it definitely has encouraged me to keep an eye on what Mr. Adamson comes up with next. He has a gentle and kind worldview that is sorely needed not only in science fiction but in storytelling in general!

I relished the peacefulness and hope of The Old Mountain Biker.

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Creating Consciousness: A Review of MARiiMO

Book cover for MARiiMO by Tyrel Pinnegar. Image on cover shows a drawing of a grey robot with blobby arms and legs and a white head. The bottom portion of the head is filled with a blue liquid, an the rest of the head is white and blank. TitleMARiiMO

Author: Tyrel Pinnegar

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 17, 2018

Genres: Science Fiction, Romance, LGBTQ+

Length: 124 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

This is the journal of Tammy Maheswaran, a reclusive roboticist living with undiagnosed autism. It documents the creation of Mariimo, a developmental robotics platform through which Tammy subconsciously externalizes her issues with isolation, anxiety, and touch. Upon the machine’s activation, Tammy gradually begins to realize that in the act of constructing Mariimo, she’s been unknowingly deconstructing herself.

Review:

Content Warning: Detailed descriptions of what it feels like to have anxiety, phantom pain from a limb amputation, and brief flashbacks to a car accident during which the main character was seriously injured.

Not everything can be planned out in advance.

I enjoyed Tammy’s character development. She told the audience almost nothing about herself when we first met her, so it was refreshing to see her slowly evolve into sharing more details about her personality and interests as the storyline progressed. I liked the process of exploring parts of her life she’d been completely silent about before. My opinion of her was fairly neutral in the beginning, but it swung over to something warm and positive  once I had a stronger understanding of how her mind worked and why she made the choices she did.

The pacing was very slow, especially during the first third of the book. While I understand that this was done on purpose due to the fact that Tammy had undiagnosed autism and was meticulous about how she created MARiiMO, I did have some trouble remaining interested as the narrator gave me so many chapters on the many different materials she used (or, in some cases, decided not to use) to make her robot come to life. I was glad I stuck through with it to the end, but the pacing was enough of a deterrent for me as a reader that it did have a negative affect on my rating. 

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that compared the differences between how a human and a robot may react to the same unexpected event. Even Tammy’s thorough planning phase in this experiment couldn’t predict everything MARiiMO did after she was created. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I thought this subplot was one of the most realistic and well-developed ones of them all. The author pushed everything to its logical conclusion and wasn’t afraid to extrapolate even more plots twists from the tiniest wisp of earlier ideas. 

MARiiMO was a thoughtful read.

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First Contact: A Review of Fractals

Book cover for Fractals by G.S. Jennsen. Image on cover shows a pink swirl of stars in the night sky. They all appear to be emanating from the same spot and are slowly spinning out into space in a wide loop. Title: Fractals

Author: G.S. Jennsen

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 20, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Action/Adventure, and just a pinch of romance.

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A mysterious signal coming from deep space attracts the attention of humanity’s scientists and the soldiers who protect them—the kind of attention the originators of the signal will do anything to avoid. When the two converge, first contact doesn’t go the way either side planned.
*
FRACTALS is set in an alternative universe from the Aurora Rhapsody novels and short stories, but it features several of the same characters.

Review:

Content Warning: A space battle (but no injuries or deaths were described during it). I will not discuss it in my review.

Following protocol doesn’t always work well in situations that humanity has never experienced before.

Alexis and her coworkers struck me as people who had memorized all of the rules but didn’t always know why those rules had been put into place or when they could be reasonably bent. Their disagreements about how to react to what could possibly be first contact with an intelligent alien species were as humorous as they were true to all of these characters’ personalities. Honestly, I wouldn’t have expected anything other than a few professional but sometimes terse arguments along the way as they figured out what they wanted to do next.

This would have benefitted from another round of editing in my opinion. The narrator switched between verb tenses so often that I became confused. There were also some characters who were introduced with very little explanation of who they were or how they were connected to anyone else. While I certainly didn’t expect to have everything spoon fed to me during my first introduction to this world, this would have been easier to understand if the narrator had been a little more assertive about filling the readers in on the basics of what we needed to know due to the author’s comments on Amazon about this being a series that didn’t need to be read in any particular order.

The ending made me chuckle. No, I won’t spoil anything about it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way Ms. Jennsen veered off into a totally new direction with it. What a creative take on the idea of how first contact with an alien species is supposed to go. Not only did she clear up some of my questions about what was going on, she made me wonder what other surprises might be hidden in this universe.

Fractals was a wild ride.

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The Science of Vampirism: A Review of Serotonin

Book cover for Serotonin by Joshua Scribner. Image on cover shows a campfire burning outside against a pitch black sky. Title: Serotonin

Author: Joshua Scribner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 2, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 15 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

A vampire story with historical references and a strong science fiction component.

Review:

Content Warning: Stalking, imprisonment, a discussion about why one character is a cannibal (but no actual cannibalism happens in this tale), and a vampire’s finger being cut off. I won’t discuss any of this in my review.

Sometimes there are no good guys.

I almost stopped reading halfway through this short story due to how violent certain passages were, but the two charismatic antagonists made me curious to see which one of these bad guys might win. Neither of them was someone I’d ever want to meet in a dark alley, but I couldn’t deny that they were both intelligent and quick-witted. It was amusing to see how their ominous energies interacted with each other.

What ultimately convinced me to go for a five star rating was how terrifying vampires are in this world. I’ll leave it up to other readers to learn for themselves why this is the case, but it was refreshing to see an author take a more traditional approach to this lore and make the main character someone who truly feels like a menace to human society. This is a great option for readers who like being scared and who would rather have their vampires without a single ounce of romance or sentimentality.

The world building was fantastic. Given how short this was, I don’t want to share too many details about how vampires or their abilities work in this universe. All you need to know is that they choose their victims carefully and that there are things humans can do to increase and decrease the odds of being selected as someone’s dinner option. There doesn’t seem to be such a thing as a random vampire attack here. That made me want to learn more about how it all worked.

Serotonin was an excellent example of what horror should be.

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A Review of The Old Man at the End of the World

Book cover for The Old Man at the End of the World: Bite No. 1 by AK Silversmith. Image on cover shows a lime green silhoutte of a zombie who has a thought bubble above its head that has a human brain in it. The zombie is shambling towards a black silhoutte of a man who is leaning on a black and white can and whose hat is popping off of his head in surprise. Title: The Old Man at the End of the World

Author: AK Silversmith

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 15, 2017

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Humour, Contemporary

Length: 67 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

The end is nigh…. and Gerald Stockwell-Poulter has had quite enough of it already. Pesky business altogether. All this hiding and running about. Makes Brexit look like a doddle.

After 87 largely well-behaved years as a model citizen, less than four hours into the ‘zompocalypse’ and he has already killed a neighbour, rescued a moody millennial drug dealer and forged an unlikely allegiance with a giant ginger Scotsman. And it isn’t even tea time.

Join Gerald as he and his newfound allies navigate the post-apocalyptic English countryside in their hilarious bid to stay off the menu.

Review:

Content Warning: Blood, gore, and (obviously) zombies. I will be discussing these things briefly in my review.

This isn’t the quiet retirement Gerald was hoping for.

The character development was well done. Gerald’s default emotional range fell somewhere in the vicinity of various shades of grumpiness, and he certainly had a lot to be annoyed about about here when the plot gave him opportunities to express his feelings. I enjoyed contrasting his reaction to the sudden appearance of zombies with how other people reacted, especially since Gerald didn’t pay attention to the news and had no idea what was happening in the first scene. It was amusing to see him essentially shrug his shoulders at such a momentous shift in human history and get on with his life as best as he could.

It would have been helpful to have more plot development. I started this not realizing it was the beginning of a serial, so it came a surprise to me to see how long it took anything to happen and how abruptly everything ended. Yes, serials need to end on an exciting note in order to keep their readers hooked, but in this case the storyline evolved so slowly that I struggled to remain interested even though I was initially thrilled by the thought of describing a zombiepocalypse from the perspective of someone in their 80s.

I chuckled at the dry British humour in this novella. Gerald and his allies were far less afraid of zombies than most characters are in this genre. If anything, it was a nuisance for them to have to run away from such creatures on such a beautiful day when there was so much gardening to do. They often didn’t have strong emotional responses to what was happening to them, and that lighthearted exaggeration of British culture worked nicely with the text. It certainly helped them make logical decisions in the heat of the moment as well.

The Old Man at the End of the World was an intriguing introduction to this series.

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A Review of The Cybernetic Tea Shop

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz book cover. Image on cover shows a steaming cup of tea in a white mug that has fancy ridges and floral patterns on it. Title: The Cybernetic Tea Shop

Author: Meredith Katz

Publisher: Soft Cryptid (Self-Published)

Publication Date: July 30, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, LGBTQ, Romance

Length: 118 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library. Thank you to Berthold Gambrel for reviewing it and bringing it to my attention!

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Clara Gutierrez is an AI repair technician and a wanderer. Her childhood with her migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering for too long, so she moves from place to place across retro-futuristic America.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot. Older than the law declaring her kind illegal due to ethical concerns, she is at best out of place in society and at worst vilified. She continues to run the tea shop previously owned by her long-dead master, lost in memories of the past, struggling to fulfill her master’s dream for the shop while slowly breaking down.

They meet by chance, but as they begin to spend time together, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

A F/F retro-future sci-fi asexual romance. A story about artificial intelligence and real kindness, about love, and the feeling of watching steam rising softly from a teacup on a bright and quiet morning.

Review:

Content Warning: Arson.

It’s never too late to try again.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored how Sal’s programming nudged her to make decisions that many humans would not. For example, her idea of terms like lifespan or forever were not the same as they were for Clara. The author did an excellent job of digging deeply into the psychology of artificial intelligence and showing the audience how a robot might really think about and interact with those around them.

I did find myself wishing for more world building in this story. This was set at least three hundred years in the future, yet most of the technology and culture was fairly similar to what we have today. That struck me as odd and pulled me out of the plot. It would have been helpful to either have a good explanation for why things had advanced so slowly or to see more examples of how their world was different from ours.

This was such a refreshing take on the romance genre. Whether you read a ton of romance novels or tend to avoid that genre altogether, I suggest going into this one without any assumptions about what’s going to happen next. It broke so many of the rules about how falling in love is supposed to look that I honestly couldn’t say for sure what would happen from one scene to the next. That’s the sort of thing I love to discover when trying out new authors, so I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what Ms. Katz comes up with next.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop was a cozy and romantic read.

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