Tag Archives: Short Stories

Surviving the Apocalypse: A Review of Patient Zero

Patient Zero Post Apocalyptic Short Stories book cover. There is a biohazard sign on the cover as well.Title: Patient Zero: Post-Apocalyptic Short Stories (Project Renova #0.5)

Author: Terry Tyler

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2017

Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic

Length: 120 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Terry

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

The year is 2024.
A mysterious virus rages around the UK.
Within days, ‘bat fever’ is out of control.
Patient Zero is a collection of nine short stories featuring characters from the post apocalyptic Project Renova series. All stories are completely ‘stand alone’.

1. Jared: The Spare Vial
Jared has two vaccinations against the deadly virus: one for him, one for a friend…

2. Flora: Princess Snowflake
The girl with the perfect life, who believes in her father, the government, Christian charity and happy endings.

3. Jeff: The Prepper
What does a doomsday ‘prepper’ do when there is nothing left to prepare for?

4. Karen: Atonement
She ruined her sister’s last day on earth, and for this she must do penance.

5. Aaron: #NewWorldProblems
Aaron can’t believe his luck; he appears to be immune. But his problems are far from over.

6. Ruby: Money To Burn
Eager to escape from her drug dealer boyfriend’s lifestyle, Ruby sets off with a bag filled with cash.

7. Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife
Meg waits for her husband to arrive home from work. And waits…

8. Evie: Patient Zero
Boyfriend Nick neglects her. This Sunday will be the last time she puts up with it. The very last time.

9. Martin: This Life
Life after life has taught the sixty year old journalist to see the bigger picture.

Review

Review:

Content warning: death. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post.

It’s impossible to get away from an invisible foe that has spread everywhere.

Normally, I pick about three short stories in an anthology and do mini-review for all of them. This time I decided to shake things up since everything in this collection has the same setting. The characters change, but the effects of the Kerivoula Lanosa (bat fever) virus are felt by everyone in this world.

The character development was well done across the board. Each character had a limited amount of time to show the audience who he or she was due to how everything was formatted, so I was impressed by how well I got to know everyone. Their unique personalities shone through no matter how many or how few pages they had to share their experiences. While I can’t say that I’d necessarily want to be buddies with everyone in this universe, I did want to learn more about all of them. They were all genuinely interesting folks, and that’s something I always love discovering in a book.

While I didn’t expect to have every question of mine answered neatly, especially since I haven’t read the rest of this series yet, I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to the final story. Martin: This Life had a tone that was nothing like anything else I’d read earlier. It also introduced a plot twist that had not been so much as hinted at in any of the other stories. In fact, it seemed to change the genre classification entirely. I was intrigued by this surprise, but I also wish it had been explained a little better.

With that being said, I still enjoyed this collection and would recommend it to new and longterm fans of Ms. Tyler’s work alike. It left me with so many questions about what happened next in this universe that I can’t wait to read everything else about these characters and the plague they tried to survive.

This anthology is part of the Project Renova series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

 

Title: The Raven and Other Tales

Author: Joy V. Spicer

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 132 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Joy

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young girl encounters a bad-tempered dwarf. Enter within, where magic is found alongside the ordinary, and things aren’t always what they seem. Where curiosity leads to a nightmare. Where ashes have the power to transform. And where stolen mortals are doomed to be forever lost in the forest.

Review:

This is a collection of ten short stories that are all firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. One of the coolest things Joy did with them was to briefly explain where her ideas for them came from after the conclusion of each story. I always enjoy learning where writers find inspiration for their work, so I was excited to have a sentence or two of explanation before beginning the next tale.

The most effective way I’ve found to review anthologies like this one is to pick about three of the stories in them that most accurately represent the over-arching themes and writing style in my opinion, describe their plots in a spoiler-free sentence or two, and then share my impressions of them. If any of these mini-reviews grab your attention, I’d heartily recommend checking out the whole book.

The Forest of the Others

Grace’s father and younger brother had wandered into a mysterious, forbidden forest and never come home again in “The Forest of the Others.” Three years after their disappearances, Grace ignored her mother’s warning to stay away from those trees and went into the forest to see if she could find out what happen to them.

I sure would have liked to see better communication between Grace and her mom. These woods were such an irresistible place in this universe that I think Grace would have still gone into them even if her mother had been more clear about how dangerous they were. It felt a little odd to me for someone who had already lost two relatives to what should have been an innocuous patch of land to be so vague about what she thought happened to them or why Grace should never break this rule.

This is something I’m saying as someone who loved everything else about this story. The dialogue was fresh and crisp. Grace’s character development was handled wonderfully. Her experiences in the woods made me shudder, although I’ll leave it up to future readers to discover why. The world-building was really nicely done, too, especially when it came to the mixture of emotions Grace had about the forest she wasn’t supposed to visit. All I needed was for Grace to know exactly why that area was forbidden before she decided to break that rule anyway.

Stranger at the Crossroads

Some of the tales in this collection were so short and filled with plot twists that I need to be pretty careful what I say about them for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.  “Stranger at the Crossroads” was one of them. In it, a woman who was walking down the road with her donkey met a stranger who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be.

Does this sound like a mystery or possibly something from the horror genre? Well, it wasn’t. The main character was such a brave and kind soul that her reaction to the unnerving stranger at the crossroads was as pleasantly surprising as it was creative. I enjoyed this entire anthology, but I must say that she was my favourite character of them all. I couldn’t have asked for a better protagonist on that particular day and in that specific time and place.

An Unlikely Friendship

In “An Unlikely Friendship,” a young girl named Meg met a grumpy dwarf in the middle of the woods one day while she was out searching for edible plants to feed her family. Meg’s friendship with Nev, the dwarf, was unexpected but a nice distraction from the grinding poverty she, her widowed mother, and two older sisters had struggled with for years.  Yes, this story was one of the ones mentioned in the blurb!

Meg’s personality was nicely written. She’d been taught to be kind to everyone she met. That’s a common trope in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, so I won’t go into much detail about it here. What was refreshing about this particular take on that lesson was how Meg reacted when it appeared that her kindness was not only going to be taken for granted but could very well lead her into a worse predicament than she’d been in when she was only poor and hungry.

This is the sort of twist to a genre that makes me want to come back for more.

 

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check them out.

Title: Let’s Play White

Author: Chesya Burke

Publisher: Apex Publications

Publication Date: 2011

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 200 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Apex Publications.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

White brings with it dreams of respect, of wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It’s the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain? The title story in this collection asks those questions, and then moves on to challenge notions of race, privilege, personal choice, and even life and death with equal vigor.

From the spectrum spanning despair and hope in “What She Saw When They Flew Away” to the stark weave of personal struggles in “Chocolate Park,” Let’s Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard. “I Make People Do Bad Things” shines a metaphysical light on Harlem’s most notorious historical madame, and then, with a deft twist into melancholic humor, “Cue: Change” brings a zombie-esque apocalypse, possibly for the betterment of all mankind.

Gritty and sublime, the stories of Let’s Play White feature real people facing the worlds they’re given, bringing out the best and the worst of what it means to be human. If you’re ready to slip into someone else’s skin for a while, then it’s time to come play white.

Review:

Content Warning: racism, pregnancy, childbirth, deaths (including the death of a child), rape, domestic violence, and miscarriage. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post, and I will not be going into detail about any of these topics in my review.

As much as I’d love to write a full-length review of all eleven stories in this anthology, doing so would have inflated this post to five or six thousand words at minimum because each one was set in its own unique universe. What I decided to do instead was to pick a few of the stories I enjoyed the most and talk about why I liked them so much. If any of these mini-reviews catches you attention, I highly recommend reading the whole anthology! It was well done and pretty interesting to read.

Purse

In “Purse,” a woman named Manyara battled anxious thoughts about the other passengers on the bus she was travelling on, especially when it came to a black man who was sitting near her. She was carrying thousands of dollars in her purse and worried she’d be robbed. This tale was filled with creative plot twists, so I’ll need to be mindful of what else I say about it.

What impressed me the most was how much effort I had to put in as a reader to figure out what was really happening on this bus ride. There was so much more going on with Manyara than she originally shared with the audience. This is something I’d recommend reading with as few assumptions about what is happening as your brain can handle.

What She Saw When They Flew Away

Grief doesn’t always end on a set schedule. Pearl, the main character of “What She Saw When They Flew Away,” had suffered a terrible loss before this tale began. Not only did she struggle to come to terms with it, she had even more trouble helping her daughter, Nayja, adapt to their new life together. Their sometimes-conflicting reactions to the same tragedy made me wonder what would happen by the final scene.

While I can’t say much else about their lives without giving away spoilers, I loved the metaphors Pearl used to explain how she was feeling even though I do wish she’d been given more time to show how they affected her life instead of simply telling the audience they were bringing up bittersweet memories.

Cue: Change

As the blurb mentioned, “Cue: Change” was set in a zombiepocalypse. These weren’t typical zombies, though, and their unpredictable effect on society was something I couldn’t have predicted ahead of time. I was fascinated by this twist on this monster. It was completely different from any other take on them I’ve read before, and it made me wish for more stories like this.

The humans also didn’t behave the way I’d normally expect them to in this sub-genre. Not only did they make calm, rational decisions, they stuck to their regular routines as much as they possibly could. This isn’t a common reaction to zombies, and it made me wish this was a full-length novel so I could get to know the characters even better than I did.

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Toynbee Convector

In June of 2018 I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of TimeThe Lovely BonesSemiosis, and Astraea. Today I’m back with another recommendation for hopeful sci-fi. This time it’s a short story! 

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.

The Toynbee Convector

“The Toynbee Convector” is a short story by Ray Bradbury that was first published in 1984 as a standalone piece. It was later republished as part of an anthology, so that is where the book cover in this post came from.

Feel free to click on the link at the beginning of this sentence if you’d like to read it for yourselves before continuing on with this post. It’s a quick read.

The storyline follows a reporter named Roger Shumway who has been given the opportunity to interview Craig Bennett Stiles, a time traveller who had visited the distant future  and come back home bursting with hope.

A century has passed since his trip, and Stiles is a very old man now. This interview will almost certainly be his last chance to tell the world more about what his journey was like and why he was so excited about what he saw in humanity’s future.

Given the short length of this piece and my strict no-spoilers policy, I can’t tell you much else about the plot. Let’s talk about my emotional reaction to it instead!

Real Problems with No Easy Solutions

The first thing that impressed me about this short story was that it existed in our universe, warts and all. This wasn’t an episode of Star Trek….although Star Trek would be an interesting choice for a future Hopeful Science Fiction post!

These characters were well aware of the pollution, violent conflict, inequality, climate change, and other major issues that humanity has yet to solve.

I found it fascinating to see how Roger reacted to the idea that so many of our biggest threats would be resolved. He was just as intrigued – and honestly maybe a little suspicious of – those claims as I would be if I spoke to someone who claimed that this same scenario would happen in real life.

Everyone Needs Hope

The importance of hope was of the recurring themes in Roger and Craig’s interview, and it was the second thing that made me think this would be the perfect addition to this series.

Craig had come of age at a time when the average’s person hope for the future was waning. So many unsuccessful attempts had been made to fix the world that some folks were beginning to wonder if it was impossible for us to make things better.

Can one person make a difference?

If one person isn’t capable of improving the world, how many willing participants do you need in order to change things?

What do you do when nothing seems to work?

I’ll leave it up my readers to discover the answers to these questions for themselves.

We All Have Choices

Not everyone necessarily has the same opportunities in life, but we all have choices.

The third thing that convinced me this was a piece of hopeful science fiction worth sharing with all of you was how Craig and Roger responded to the choices that were available to them.

Their personalities couldn’t have been more different. Roger was a risk-taker, while Craig was someone who seemed to have spent his entire life making the most cautious moves possible.

Yet they both made decisions that were eerily similar. I loved seeing how two personalities on opposite sides of the spectrum could end up coming to some of the same conclusions.

Those of you who read the free copy of this story before continuing on with this post know what I’m talking about. For everyone else, I’m doing my best to entice you to check it out without giving away too many details.

What hopeful science fiction stories have you been reading recently?

Unlikely Allies: A Review of Pads for His Throne

Content Warning: Blood.

This is otherwise a spoiler-free review.

Title: Pads for His Throne

Author: Olli Crusoe

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Humour

Length: 33 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Ollie.

Rating: 5 stars

Blurb: A regular night at the office changes Louise’s life, when a running gag summons an ancient evil from a forgotten time. To be honest, it’s probably harder on the ancient evil, though. Not only the times have changed.

Demons come in all shapes and sizes.

Before I talk about demons, though, let’s talk about menstruation. This is a topic that I’ve seen mentioned in fewer books than I have fingers on my left hand, and I genuinely can’t remember the last time it happened in the science fiction genre. The fact that it was not only mentioned but played an important role in the plot early on was one of several reasons why I decide to review this story.

Once I met Terazael, the demon that Louise accidentally summoned, I knew this was something I had to recommend to my audience. Terazael had been around for eons, and his understanding of our world was rooted in the mind of a creature who has seen countless civilizations rise and fall. That is to say, he had no idea how modern life works, and his assumptions about what sort of person would summon him might not have been totally accurate.

The relationship between Louise and Terazael was deliciously odd. He expected her to worship him as the powerful, immortal being that he was. She expected him to be a figment of her imagination and was perplexed when that didn’t turn out to the be case. They had nothing at all in common at first glance, and yet I couldn’t imagine a funnier or more memorable duo. She was as snarky as he was enthusiastic.

There was only one thing I wavered on when writing this review, and that had to do with whether or not I should include a horror tag in it. Like demons everywhere, Terazael relished the thought of blood sacrifices – especially of the virgin variety –  and talked about his desire for them them regularly and in great detail. While this wasn’t a gory story overall, it was something I thought I should mention for anyone who dislikes references to blood or torture because of how enthusiastic he was on the topic. I can’t go into more details about his preferred types of recreation or how successful he might have been with them without giving away spoilers, but I’d be happy to discuss it privately with anyone who would like more information.

I couldn’t have imagined a better ending for this story. Both Terazael and Louise struggled with problems that they had no clue how to resolve, especially in the first few scenes when she was still trying to figure out what sort of creature he was and if he really existed. It was fascinating to me to see how the plot dealt with their problems and what happened once they each realized that all of their attempts to solve them weren’t working.

Pads for His Throne was a wonderful read. Olli couldn’t have done a better job with his storytelling, and I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

Adventures on the Orange Planet: A Review of The Lady of Dawnzantium

As mentioned earlier this summer, I’ve decided to include more book reviews in the publication queue for this blog. Everything I review will somehow be connected to the speculative fiction genre, and I will highlight authors whose books are self-published, indie, or from small presses as often as possible. As always, my reviews are spoiler… Read More