Tag Archives: science fiction

Yearly Book Recap 2015 (Fiction)

Good evening fine word connoisseurs,

As you know, this year I undertook the challenge to read more female authors than usual. My goal was a clean 50 / 50 split, but when failure struck my goal was to work harder at including other narratives than cis white male ones in my literature landscape.

This is the recap of that (very modest) goal. As I’ve read both non-fiction and fiction works this year, I ‘ve split them into two separate posts.  For the fiction post I’ll be using the below categories:

Fiction:

  • Change-your-life good.
  • Worth purchasing. (Fantastic, but not amazing.)
  • You decide. (Might contain some good ideas, some decent writing or interesting characters. Depends on your personal taste if you’re going to get your money’s worth.)
  • Nice try / Gold star. (The author put a lot of work into this, but it didn’t quite come off as well as it could have.)
  • WTF Random Publisher? (How was this even published? For indie authors, they are automatically excluded from this category. Quality control should mean something.)

+ Note: the list numbers do not indicate quality or ranking of the individual books against each other.

Change-your-life Good

  1. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City is gritty, raw and punches the reader so hard in the face they’ll have to wipe away the literary stains. Imagine if Raymond Chandler was still alive, still wrote and embraced multi-cultural narratives. That’s what Zoo City feels like.

2. The Windup Girl Paolo Bacigalupi

Here’s a book that grabs the 21st century, and pulls it screaming onto the page. It doesn’t know what american-centric story-telling is or why white people should be the coolest characters in the narrative. It’s the first (and only) book I’ve read so far that seems to have a global vision when it comes to where Sci-Fi should go.

3. Push by Sapphire

This novel is ridiculous. In 100 pages it manages to worm its  way under your skin and just stick there. Like an ooze. It’s about Precious, a sixteen-year-old with a horrific home life. Even though it takes you into this hell hole of humanity, it also gives you hope. It shows you how Precious (with the help of a good support network) is able to overcome and escape the cycle she was born into.

Female Authors: 2   Male Authors: 1    Various: 0

Worth Purchasing

4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

A multi-generational tale about a family of immigrants who moved from Bengal to Boston. Although a little too focussed on the male-side of the family, it covers a range of perspectives and has a snappy pace to it. Highly accessible and very enlightening reading.

5. Once Upon a Time at the End of the World by S. Elliot Brandis

(Full Disclosure: S. Elliot Brandis and I belonged to the same writing club several years ago. ) 

Once Upon a Time at the End of the World is a novella about an android and a prostitute who form an unlikely alliance and engage in bounty hunts after the apocalypse. Exceptionally well written, but at times the dialogue and the themes explored contradict each other.

6. 2001: A Space Odessy by Arthur C. Clarke

An oldie but a goodie. The movie was a wash for my brother and I, but the book fleshes out a lot of the characters’ motivations and creates a fascinating world full of possibilities. Highlights why Arthur C. Clarke was one of the greats.

7. The Real StoryForbidden Knowledge by Stephen R. Donaldson

An exploration of, or treatise on, the darker side of humanity. Stephen R. Donaldson seems to not know where the line is for the reader’s comfort, but creates a compelling story all the same. Consume at your own risk.

8. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Fun, whimsical and almost impossible not to enjoy. Howl’s Moving Castle follows the story of Sophie as she struggles to inspire Howl to be brave, all while hoping not to fall in love with him. The characters are more selfish than the animated movie, but loveable all the same.

9. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Difficult to categorise, Let the Right One In is a fine example of cross-genre literature. It takes the disquiet of horror, the character-building of drama and the poignancy of a coming-of-age novel and mixes them all together. The result is a captivating slow burn of a story that builds to a pitch-perfect crescendo.

Movie Note: Oskar is more complex than the Swedish movie, but possibly not as likeable.

10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman knows how to write. He knows how to create diverse characters and infuse a story with compelling supernatural elements. Unfortunately, he can also get carried away. American Gods is full of profound ideas, but feels a little too loose on the narrative structure and sometimes events happen  that don’t propel the story forward. If it had been trimmed a touch, it would’ve been one of the best reads of 2015.

11. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A coming-of-age / boarding-school drama that uses a sci-fi hook to hold the reader. Although the stakes are small and this type of story of love and loss has been told before, Kazuo Ishiguro weaves a tight little tale about 3 students which compels you to read on. Not the most original work to add to your library, but worthwhile to admire simply for its execution.

12. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

In many ways, a mess of a book. Plot threads are often left dangling in a strong breeze, the story takes too long to start, and then jumps around too much until it finds its focus. There are way too many characters. However, it’s well written and there are ideas piled on top of ideas wrapped in a sandwich of even bigger ideas. However, After the uproar about Patrick Rothfuss’s depiction of women in the Ademre society, The Mirror Empire may be questionably sexist depending on which lens you view it through.

Definitely worthwhile if you’re a writer for inspiration, as a reader of fantasy it might leave too many things dependent on a sequel for a satisfying finale.

13. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker is an oddity. It’s a really good novel that’s about the lengths a mother will go to to save her son from his own foolishness. A story that features zombies, regret, a steampunk setting and several heart-clenching set pieces. Unfortunately, the front cover makes it look like a wild ride about air pirates. Not what the novel is about at all. So, if you can get over the shock and initial disappointment of not having any awesome dogfights or cussing air pirates in there, you’ll be alright.

14. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

It’s short, the stories are interesting and it’s … J.K. Rowling. If you’ve got Harry Potter fans in your house they’ll love it. If you don’t, they’ll enjoy the twists J.K. Rowling puts on our old myths and creates something new. Good fun for a rainy hour or so.

Female Authors: 6    Male Authors: 8    Various: 0

You Decide

15. All Over Him By Casey Chase

Hot, dumb, erotic fiction. Not quite paranormal though, despite the blurb promising it would be. If you like your sex hard and your men obnoxiously stalker-ish then this is for you.

16. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holdberg

Part of the post-Harry Potter fantasy novels which take pre-existing rules and try to tweak them a little bit. Starts out well with a frustrated teenager (one just legal enough to be romantically involved with an older man) who gets put into the ‘worst’ field of magic: paper. This happens despite her ‘mad’ skills.

At the commencement of the novel, the book seems to want to have a conversation about sexism and how it affects women, but then undoes all that by having the main protagonist fall in love with her teacher.

Full of whimsy, but its main plot hook loses momentum half way through and the tone shifts drastically between scenes for drama purposes. The Paper Magician seems unsure if it wants to a contemplation on love and loss or a flighty road through a magical landscape. It tries to do both, but struggles under the thematic weight and collapses by the end.

17. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemsin

Centers on the tribulations of Yeine Darr and her unexpected rise to the city of Sky. Takes some of the ideas of American Gods and twists them splendidly only to have all that setup undone by a passive protagonist. A novel that’s supposed to be about empowering women to challenge the world order, has Yeine’s actions mean nothing all while falling in love with the masculine (and emotionally distant) dark god in the novel.

18. Acid Row by Minette Walters

A thriller with a fantastic hook: what if a town rioted because a pedophile was placed in their neighbourhood? The story starts well with a little mystery and lots of suspense, but gets caught on its social message and psychologist jargon. The author attempts to convey that the community isn’t really bad, nor is the pedophile, it’s the way he was raised and proceeds to explain that three or four times to the reader. Eventually the story and likability of the characters gets buried under useless exposition and over-explained character motivation.

19. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

A classic, but one that was struggle to enjoy. Everything is there: a foreboding father, the backdrop of the moors, inter-generational hatred and domestic violence, but it fell short. I can’t identify why, but unfortunately it didn’t connect with me.

20. Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A frustrating read. The first half, maybe even 3/4, is excellent. Great pacing, fantastic flashbacks and a powerful emotional ride through what seems to be an autobiographical story. However, the last 1/4 destroys all of that. There’s too much lumped in which feels tossed together at the end to make Amir’s life seem less messy than it was.  There’s the confrontation between the protagonist and his childhood antagonist, the mirroring of his friend’s son’s actions against an all too similar event earlier in the novel, a finale which only happens because the Amir forgets everything he knows about kids and says something inopportune, plus the shrinking of a village from many individuals into only those that are relevant to the story. If it was an autobiography, you could write it off. Life is strange. But when it’s fiction the coincidences can only get piled so high before it feels like the author is twisting the world inside-out to get the end out of the tale they want. This is one of those potential greats that got lost on its own trail.

21. The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Magic for hipsters. Perhaps more precisely, magic for ivy-league, male hipsters. They kind of book that struts around pretending to be grown up but is simply a teenager trying on an executive-looking pair of pants. It spends 510 pages trying to get the reader to sympathise with a character who (SPOILERS) cheats on his girlfriend, brings about the death of a classmate and runs away from all his responsibilities. All the while bitching about how life has done ‘im hard. If that sounds like someone you love spending time with then buy away.

Female Authors: 11   Male Authors: 10    Various: 0

Nice Try / Gold Star

22.The Kingdom by Jennifer M. Barry

It features a pixie king and his human love interest  Otherwise a standard paranormal romance. A more comprehensive review can be found here.

23. Elis Royd by Ron Sanders

One of the few novels that starts out with the writer taking shots at some imaginary straw-authors before penning a poorly written tome. Clearly some thought has gone into it, but the execution struggles and the ideas could still with a few more hours in peculation.

24. Evolution’s Child: Earthman by Charles Lee Lesher

A book based on many ideas which has forgotten that an interesting world does not make a novel. Starts out with a solid chase scene but slides into talking heads after that. You might enjoy it if you’re deeply in love with the prose of Atlas Shrugged. More details here.

25. Winter by S.D. Rasheed

A paranormal romance that features one strangely inserted sex scene and ever-changing character motivations. At times forgets its own story and then spirals out of control with a main character who must fall in love with the dark demon to propel the plot along. Possibly the only novel I’ve read this year where I’ve wanted more description from the author so I know what’s going on.

26. Deadly Love by Wesley Robert Lowe

A thriller / mystery / romance about a lost ghost that returns to Canada to find her killer. (Perhaps?) Introduces a world full of drugs, violence and angry sex in the tourist section of Vancouver. All the ghosts have a confusing set of powers and none of the characters are believable or scary. At times I accidentally laughed out loud and rolled my eyes. Unfortunately, you can feel the author had a clear vision they wanted to show in this work but it got lost in the execution.

27. Invasion of Kzarch by E.G. Castle

Wanted to like it, but struggled with the character motivations. Full review can be found here.

28. Wool by Hugh Howey

I don’t want to put Wool here. I don’t. Yet here it is. Two of the best writers I know recommended this work. I read Hugh Howey’s posts on The Passive Voice and head nod along with him, but Wool was not good.

Wool starts with an interesting idea: what if we had to live in a silo due to a nuclear attack? Then he adds a conspiracy dimension to it, and a lot of events that don’t make sense. He kills characters for no reason, has villains pop out of nowhere to increase suspense and has the main character fall in love with a guy she’s met twice. What? How is that even a thing in 2015? Also, it’s long with extended introversion sequences that neither advance the plot nor the characters’ motivation. Overall, it’s a book that loses out due to pacing and plotting problems rather than writing skill.

29. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

If Scott Pilgrim could come alive and write a novel, this would be it. Except it would’ve been written by the Scott Pilgrim before he had met Ramona. It features a protagonist that is cis, white and a HERO! Because … reasons dammit. He leads his multi-racial crew to justice against the evil corporate empire by cyber-stalking a woman, signing contracts without a lawyer looking them over, and acting like a teenager in front of a director of a company. If you don’t mind that, and the long sections which are not at all related to 1980s pop-culture, then you might want to snatch this up.

30. Speculative Japan by Various

A series of old sci-fi short stories that were translated from Japanese authors. It features 3 opening / introduction essays and 2 afterword pieces, which should give an indicator of what type of book it is. Many of the stories feel uninspired by today’s standards and of the ones that are solid, it’s difficult to know if the original story was blandly worded or the translation turned them into uninspired pieces of prose. Often it feels like a vanity project by those involved and is a tad expensive when compared to the many great anthologies are already available.

31. HMS Ulysses by Alistair Maclean

It breaks my heart that this is here. I love Alistair Maclean. The Dark Crusader and Puppet on a Chain are two of my favourite novels of all time. In saying that, HMS Ulysses is chock full of b-grade war movie dialogue and overly dramatic scenes. Everyone is heroic and the characters, when not advising how dangerous things are, are unable to stop praising the dying captain. Interesting only as a reference point for how Alistair Maclean grew as an author.

Female Authors: 13  Male Authors: 17    Various: 1

WTF Random Publisher?

32. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

An Irish take on Push that goes completely wrong. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, A Girl if a Half-formed Thing is so full style that it forgets to tell a story. It speaks from the first person in a dialect so difficult to piece together that I simply gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I understood what was being said, but it was so painful and the main character continued to be so annoying that I quit of frustration and read the ending. Surprise: it’s dark ending. If you like art house books, almost impenetrable novels and think reading should be a chore then this is for you.

Female Authors: 14  Male Authors: 17    Various: 1

Picture (c) sebra. Used under Standard License with Dollar Photo Club. 

Put the Jazz Down, and Walk Away from the Saxophone

“So, maybe you’ve heard this one before?” Terrence’s eyes swivelled, a thick layer of murkiness seemed to exist between his iris, his brain and the woman he was speaking to. “An android, a vampire and a skateboarding mutant walk into a bar. No one says anything. Right? Not the ghoul, not the crazy aunt with a cleaver as a hand. No one.

“They get closer and closer to the counter. Their boots, shoes, clacking, clicking, on the ground. Closer and closer. The bartender turns, cybernetic eyes swivelling in his head, and he says, ‘What’s crossing your genres?”

Terrence fell off his stool and onto the faux-wood floor. He cackled with delight, clutching his side as he laughed at his own joke. When the woman didn’t respond, he sat up and said, “Crossing your genres? Y’know…crossed gene–“

“I get it,” she replied, her voice sharp and edgy. It sounded tense, the way something does when it’s been stretched all the way back and held in that position for hours. She looked that way too, her neck rigid and even the parts of her that were naturally round seemed to have gotten sharper. Honed to a point, points that held up a black dress  above the mid-part of her thighs. “And no, I hadn’t heard that one before. Normally they’re less…funny.”

Terrence rolled onto his stool, his six-foot frame and loose shirt almost making the action seem normal in the dancing lights of the nightclub. “You know what Susan?”

“Angela.”

“Susange,” he burped and cleared his throat. “You would be a great author.”

“I am a great author,” she took a sip of her drink. It was in a beer mug, fat and huge. It appeared discordant against her thin rouge lips and tied-back hair. She had slim eyebrows that frowned slightly as she gulped its remaining contents down. After she wiped her mouth with the back of her left hand, Angela snapped her fingers. As if on command, the bartender spat on the floor. A small robot cleaned up the mess.

“Not as great as I used to be,” she continued, “not enough to pay the rent, but still…”

“Don’t give me that. You’re all backlist. Propped up by–” Terrence leant back and glanced at the ceiling, holding his sides as if in a pose “–the ‘man’. For a woman who’s like, ‘I despise the man,’ you sure use him a lot. His entrenched ways. His repression of the individuality. What you need’s a little wilderness man time.”

“That’s the last thing any woman ever needs.”

“Oh, come on, baby. My sci-fi operas are all about the rise of the feminine mind. They put their feet so far down the throat of the patriarchy that even the radicals blush a little at my prose.”

“Dont’ bullshit me. I’ve read your works. I’ve read all five of them.” The noise of a heavy glass mug hitting the counter interrupted Angela’s speech. The bartender reached under his tabletop and turned a knob.

The lights spun faster, the doof-doof of the music punched through the speakers louder. The blackness around Terrence and Angela stayed the same though. It was as if all that existed was two creaky stools, one bar, and them.

“I’ve poured over every single word,” she persisted. “Half-baked, second-rate, pieces of cliche that they are, spat out and thrust upon the world as if you’d vomited half of your brain into a bin before you’d started to type.”

“They love it though,” he countered. “Those repressive themes, even the women.” Terrence leaned forward, his hands grasping an imaginary circle. “It’s like an orgasm of nostalgia. Just this sticky thing that slides all over the body, and then squeezes our most sensitive areas. Once it’s there, it starts to pump them, right? Just vibrate along those pressure points a little. Sure, they know what’s coming. But it’s warm in that bossom of the past, it’s warm in that power. And even when they’re writing those empowerment tomes, they’re only trying to get it off them. A sort of half-hearted attempt to make themselves feel good. The same way we grab onto those literary novels, like they’re a bar of safety, all while I ooze down them and jiggle their hidden lusts until they tingle. They know they shouldn’t like it, right? They know it. And yet when they actually hate how I make them feel,” he turned and looked at Angela, peered into her eyes, “it’s even better.”

Terrence leant back and adjusted his package. “It’s like when you need that straight shot of dominance to justify your existence. They’re angry as all get out, and they’ve already prepared all these arguments to yell at the page. They love to tell me how much better they are when I’m down there, but I’m still down there.  I’m rubbing and sliding everything I am into their hearts, into their ears and–“

Angela brought mug down on Terrence’s face. It shattered and cut, revealing pieces of metal beneath his skin. His eyes appeared to press out of his skull, they showed terror but also surprise. “What? Don’t  you like my work?” He hit the ground and made a clattering sound.

Angela’s chest was heaving, her body no longer pointy but round once more. Her large breasts rose and fell as if in waves, her cheeks were red and her breaths deep. She jumped off her stool, grabbed a piece of glass and started stabbing at Terrence’s body. “I…hate…your…work!” she said.

“I hate how you treat women, how you subvert them, make them less than they always are. I despise the way you make us WHORES, make us all sex-addicted weaklings with nothing but ass and breasts.” Her fingers streamed red, but she kept going. “You think we’re objects? You think we’re little girls for your purity dreams? Damn you. Why do you even need these?” She stabbed his left eye, Terrence whimpered. “You can’t see anything.”

Quicker and quicker her thrusts went, faster and faster until…her body slumped. Her hair was tussled; her eyes roved the ceiling, unfocussed. Her breaths were less deep, more shallow and restful as she stroked her thigh, leaving red lines along it.

“Five minutes, forty-five seconds,” the bartender said, leaning over the counter. “Not bad.”

The lights went on, a white wall sat two feet from Angela. There was another a foot from where the darkness had started around the bar. “Not bad?” she asked as if she was rebuking him. “That should have been my personal best.”

“Yeah, close. Why do you keep doing this to yourself?”

Angela stood up and straightened, sniffing in the air. “I’m editing one of his books at the moment. We expect it to be accessed three-million times on launch day.”

The bartender took off his apron. “Sorry, that was personal.”

“So you do care about your customers.” She held her hands towards him.

He rubbed them with a white gooey solution. Angela winced when it made contact. “A little,” he said after he’d finished covering up to her wrists in the liquid. Slowly it merged with her skin, leaving unblemished fingers and palms behind. “First the chamber, then suicide. That’s what the data tells us.”

“I feel like I should say something witty,” she said. “But all I know are cliches. What happens when you work at a mid-list publishing house, I’m afraid.”

The bartender’s blue eyes sparkled under the light; his slim but sturdy frame and soft oval face made him look caring and strong. “Cliches I can live with, dead clients are what disturb my sleep.” He held out a small box. “It’ll be extra this time,” he said. “Rush job.”

Angela waved her left hand over it. “You never tell me your name.”

The man looked at her, his forehead crinkling slightly. He glanced at the broken android, then back at her. His gaze stayed on her face, never deviating. “Luis,” he said as he pushed the wall closest to them. A panel the size of a human slid open and the flux lights of the mall outside made the room brighter than it had been.

“Luis,” Angela repeated, her head down. “Unusual name.” She headed toward the exit, her high-heeled shoes clicking on the faux wood. “Unusual occupation, I guess.”

“Everyone says that.” He smiled, his shoulders sagging slightly, his guard seemingly down. “And good luck with your book, you’ll need it.”

Shattered — Vision Writing Challenge

This story has been inspired by Vision Writers January Writing Prompt. You can find the inspiration here

Shattered, that’s what they called him.

I guess you could argue the point, they had him snipped a while back. Held the boy down, took out some laser cutters, pliers and then did the deed. Little thing winced and whined through it all, his odd eyes bouncing across all of us onlookers.

He was a man in mind though, had all the parts. Let it hang loose in the summer, kept it wrapped up when the snows came. Also didn’t tell you much, not that we used to ask, but when one did he would pull his lips back into a snarl and snap at the noises.

Not much of a homebody, but some men aren’t. Can’t fault them for that, not when it was the women-folk who did it. Who gave him that name, who cut into his flesh and took away his ability to reproduce. Can’t blame them either, someone was going to. Shattered had that kind of a face, the kind that attracts trouble. Makes you want to hurt him.

I don’t know if you’ve guessed yet, but Shattered was a mangy thing. A mutt they used to call them types out West. He was about three foot high, had brown and black fur with a long snout and deep sunken eyes. Never a day went by where I didn’t see a red line somewhere on his body, or watch as his tail wagged while he pounded down our town’s main street.

If you live in in a town like ours, you’ll have a few dogs like that too. Trouble makers, half-coyote, half-wolf. The kind that the crazed kids go and shoot when they’re drunk and bored. The type of four-legged animal who gets killed then comes back reincarnated in another skin.

Shattered though, he wasn’t keen on the reincarnation thing. Those boys’d go out–drunk on whiskey, drunk on wine–and they’d be found five days later with an eye gouged out. Just one. Their faces would be contorted, half smiling and half terrified, but all dead.

Maybe it was Shattered, maybe it was an alien of some kind. Maybe Shattered was an alien. It was hard to tell. You see, that’s what made those boys go out yonder–they wanted his eye. Not his real eye, not the blue one that shone like the clearest sky after the rains; no. What they wanted was the one that looked like cracked green glass. All these sharp lines running into it, straight into its centre. And in there, there was this hole.

You got to understand, the hole is what humanity’s been looking for a long time. Maybe what you’ve been searching for your whole lives. Safety.

Stare long enough in there, and he’ll show you the world. More or less. Probability and all that. Close enough for the town dwellers. So they’d chase him down to catch onto those visions. Some of them he’d let get close enough for a pat, others he’d growl at and they’d do the dance so they could catch snippets in between their hockey pocky. The rest, well, they never got a chance. They were always similar in type to those boys who’d hunt him down when they were drunk, and he’d always scamper off so they never could catch him–till they were dead.

But the future, as you might now know, is often dark and empty. It’s bleak and barren, and when your favourite child turns out to be a murderous son of a bitch, that’s not something you ever want to accept. Doubly so if the vision involves your daughter shoving a man’s privates down his lover’s throat.

So the woman folk got together, figured out Shattered was a demon of some kind and decided to end his line. They didn’t want to kill him, no. Not when you got a town stocked full of millions due to a mangy mutt’s magical eye. They just didn’t want anyone else seeing their daughters and sons pillaging the landscape. They didn’t want anyone figuring out it would be better to smother them kids in their sleep instead of letting them live.

Poor little mutt, didn’t stand a chance against a town full of angry mothers. So they snipped him, tossed him in an ole cell out back and left him there.

Maybe he was testing us, maybe he was that cold-hearted killer who fakes a smile and puts up with torture only to come back and burn it down later. Hard to say now, town’s all gone. We had a few bumper years where people could really pin down what their lives were going to be like because ole Shattered couldn’t run no more. Everyone could get in on the action, get a little piece of his soul.

Everyone including that little girl, the one who turned out to be Alicia Marcus; she got to take a good long look at her future. She got to see the flames, got to see herself razing the world to the ground and lightning up the Northern Capital as people ran hard and fast to escape her forces.

She damn well drunk her fill, Shattered barking the whole time while she was in there. Nothing he could do though, just a mutt in the big scheme of things. Then she emerged, all eight years of age, and pulled the pistol from the Sheriff’s holster and shot him through the head.

So, in response to your query about the vision dog you got on your planet, I got to say that you should put a bullet through its head. Two to make sure.

Degenerated — S. Elliot Brandis — Review

One-sentence summary: 

A strong follow-up to the emotionally gripping Irradiated with a narrative that unravels at the end. 

Longer Thoughts 

Degenerated continues the story of Pearl, a mutant transformed by the after effects of a nuclear war, and her struggle to keep her humanity in a brutal landscape. It also tracks a new character, Flynn, who lives in the tunnels and is trying to keep his mutant abilities in check while surviving each day. It’s a harrowing book with an unflinching vision of the inhumanity men and women will inflict against each other if their lives are at stake. It also takes a much harder look at the effects of power and what it does to people, societies and cultural structures. 

There were several things I really loved about this work:

1. The action sequences. These are a lot tighter than in Irradiated and felt very real. At points I had to put the book down or take a small mental break from what was about to happen. 

2. Pearl’s character. In the first novel of the trilogy, Pearl felt more like a plot device for her sister, Jade. In this one she comes in to her own. She makes decisions, realises the limits of her choices and comes to grip with how the world is versus how she wants it to be. 


3. The internal politics of the tunnel. The world building of the tunnel and its economy is so great. This fantastic world is one that could exist, that could occur if the world descended into destruction. 


4. The slimming down of the prose. In Irradiated I enjoyed the writing and its lyrical quality, but sometimes it felt so dense that I got tired and struggled to continue reading it. With Degenerated that problem is gone. It flows, but it doesn’t feel as dense. I punched through this work in two 40-minute train rides and a little reading at home, it was seamless. 

When I finished it, I originally rated it as a 4-star novel because even though some things niggled at me, I really, really liked where the story was going. After a week of playing around with the novel in my head, I (very reluctantly) moved it into my 3-three star column. Here’s why:

1. The end of Pearl’s journey in this novel feels forced. The last few chapters seem to strip away her character and be placeholders for the author’s voice. They become a series of internal musings about life and how things are, but not from a person who has lived through the life she endured. 

2. Without (attempting) to give anything away, the final decisions of the main characters at the end don’t align with their previous actions. Their morality becomes theoretical instead of practical like in the rest of the novel. As the story moves to its ultimate showdown, it becomes less and less akin to a survivalist novel of independence, and more like an X-men comic where freedom unites to triumph over terror. 

In essence, in the last 10%, I became disconnected from what was happening and uninvolved. I found this strange because of all the works I’ve read by S. Elliot Brandis, this is the only one I’ve done that with. 

Conclusion

A (mostly) gripping follow-up novel that delivers on the original’s premise. It unfolds along the lines of two survivalists’ stories, but gets caught up with its own main thesis and narrative needs at the end. With crisp action, gritty realism and a dark vision for the future, Degenerated is worth your time if X-men is too PG or you enjoy dystopian fiction. 

Full Disclosure

S. Elliot Brandis and I used to belong to the same writing club.

You can find Degenerated on Amazon.

Justine Needs a Little Faith

Julie took her panama hat off and tossed it on the wooden floor. “I’m not going to be quiet,” she shouted down the hall before slamming the door closed. “It’s not like I have a pulpit.”

She pushed her unmade sheets somewhat flat, and fell on the bed. Its prestine whiteness complimenting the immaculate room with bedstand, dresser and full-length mirror. “I hate you,” she mumbled, her face in the mattress.

“Are you having another moment of existential doubt?” a robot-sounding voice said. It came from a moving box that appeared to be hovering across the floor. The speaker had no mouth or any visible output device. It was simply white, and square.

“I’m not.”

“We can increase your dosage.”

“I don’t need more…what do you call them?”

“Faith.” A small slot opened on top of the box, two pills rose from its innards until the gap had been completed covered by the previously ascending platform.

“I’m not crying,” Julie replied, sitting up. Her diamond jaw was clenched, her eyes focussed. “My emotions are in control.”

“You are important to the sisterhood,” it said. “A daughter of a politician.”

“I hate my mother, she just wants to use me.”

“Faith,” the box hovered close enough that it could touch her legs. “Weakness is not acceptable.”

“I’m not weak.”

“According to our records, you asserted an aggressive stance towards a younger inductee. That is considered weakness.”

“Don’t…mansplai…what do we say if the person isn’t male?”

The box continued to rub against Julie’s legs. She clenched her fists. “I’m not…I’m not what you think I am.”

“We have revised the Holy Scriptures in accordance with Prophet Josephine’s divine revelations. You simply require Faith.”

“It’s sexist,” she mumbled. “My father’s not a pred. Why doesn’t she do anything about it?”

“Senator Aquiline is debating amendments to the economic principles. She does not require masculine deviations.”

Julie picked up the tablets, they looked yellow under the fluro lights in her room. “Unto thee I give a land of milk and honey,” she said, swallowing the first one. She swayed on the bed, collapsing after the second tablet was taken. Her hands reached for the bible on the bedside table. Holding it, Justine started to shiver.

“It’s who I am,” she whispered to the wall. “Why did God forsake me? Why did he curse me this way?”

No answer came. Only the light being dimmed and the sound of her teeth clicking together in the darkness.

The Hidden Chemical Sheds

 Joined plexi-glass screens ran from room’s ceiling to the floor. They formed a circle, and projected contrasting visuals: riots in Ipswich, a flowing creek, angry faces, and slow moving sloths. Faster and faster they went until white and red words flashed against black and white backgrounds. All were adjectives–some offensive, some rarely used in daily speech–every single one hovering around the phrase ‘The Patriarchy is Us’.

Inside of the circle, two women sat. One on the bed covered in dark blue sheets, and the other on the floor. Both were trim, their arm muscles well defined and necks long. They were not sisters though. No one could make that mistake; their faces were far too different.

Bella had blonde hair, hacked short and frayed at the edges. Her dark green eyes appeared to cage the wildness of a forest, and her face was round and nose sharp. Her hands moved in short, furtive motions. “You know what the most insulting word is?” she said, her tone fast and spiteful.

“Malak,” Pinei replied, her angular jawline barely moving to give a response. She ran a hand through her black hair, and then crossed her legs while sitting on the bed.

“No.”

“Is this one of those rhetorical things?”

“It’s women. It’s girl. It’s…being female. Feminine.”

Pinei’s brown eyes shifted their focus towards the skylight. “Still like voyeurs?” she asked.

Bella seemed to ignore her. “You understand how it works, right? ‘Throw like a girl.’ ‘Cry like a girl.’ Anything we do, anything that’s natural to us, it’s a weakness. I’m going to bring these people down.”

“‘We’re all sandwiches in man’s hands.'” Pinei stated, sounding distracted. Her attention appeared completely focussed on the moon above them. “Professor Vera,” she said in a mock-announcer’s voice. “She will free you from the prison of your mind.”

“You shouldn’t make fun of it, you know it’s true.”

True? One of our classes says everything’s relative, the other says we should fight as if their ideas are absolute. You can’t have two sides.”

Bella stood up and stretched, her pale skin appearing almost luminous in the moonlight. “It’s nuance.”

“It’s what lets them keep their jobs.”

“So you’re not coming with me tonight?”

Pinei sighed and flexed her tattooed arms. The images they contained were covered with old scars and a rolled up checkered shirt that hung loosely off her frame. “You’ve got it round the wrong way.”

“Really?”

“The patriarchy doesn’t label what women do as weak. It labels those actions as weak because they’re done by women.”

“Yeah. I know that.”

“Do you?” Pinei’s focus shifted back to her friend. “Tonight’s rally, what do you think it’ll accomplish?”

“We’ll show them that we’re a force. We won’t back down. We’ll show them strength.”

“Or… that, driven by an irrational anger, five-hundred female extremists sought to tear down a fragile collation of understanding allies.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bella pulled at her white shoe-string top. “If they want violence, if they want to see us fight using their tactics, we can. We’ll beat them at their own game.”

“There’s no game.” Pinei played with the sheets. “There’s just lives.”

“I can risk mine.”

“Sure.”

“So why don’t you come?”

“Because mine’s precious. They’ll have guns , they’ll use them. Last week was only the start.”

“You don’t know that,” Bella sat on the bed and pulled out a box from under it. Inside was a pair of shoes. “It’s all propgranda. No one died.”

“No one?”

“The Edict wouldn’t stand for it. There’s fifty women on that council. Over half. They wouldn’t let it happen.”

“Uh huh.”

“They’re just…strategising.”

“Over half the council is women,” Pinei continued. “And yet you’re marching on the capital.”

“It takes time.”

“Uh huh.” Pinei crossed her legs and closed her eyes. “Like when my father was shot, and they strategised?”

“That’s…”

“And my mother? When she was yanked from her bed and taken behind the chemical sheds?”

“Safety in numbers. It won’t happen in this country. It’s illegal.”

Pinei stared at her non-white arms, their hue dark but not black–stained with something else. “Doesn’t happen in your country, I guess.”

“What are you talking about?” Bella pulled her second shoelace tight. “You’re a citizen too. I’ve seen your ident card.”

“And I’ve never seen yours. Never even asked.”

“I’m fighting for our rights tonight. All of womenkind.”

Pinei smiled. “That’s right, of course you are. Because the patriarchy must be slain, it’s absolute existence the only thing we can hold onto in these troubled times.”

Bella stuck her tongue out and stood up. “Wish me luck,” she said, beaming.

“Don’t get killed. And don’t take the first bullet, it’s always lethal.”

Bella didn’t listen.

The Sci-fi Novel Brisbane’s Been Waiting For

Irradiated is a novel about how far love and the need to survive will push people. Sometimes it makes them do terrible things, sometimes it spurns them into a charitable act they might not live to regret. Whatever the situation, Irradiated asks the reader questions. “How far would you go?” it queries. “Do you truly love your brother, your friend? Even at the brink of despair, will you push on, hatchet in hand?”

S. Elliot Brandis provides no easy answers or simple characterisations. The residents inhabiting his world are fully developed, each with their own desires and goals. Although I didn’t agree with all of them or their choices, I certainly understood their motivations and sympathised (as best as I could) with why they’d opted to travel that particular road. Simply put, Irradiated made me care. With sparse dialogue and well-developed set action pieces, I got to know everyone. Their hopes, dreams and fears. On that basis alone, I suggest picking up this novel.

However, there’s also S. Elliot Brandis’ way with English. It’s literary, yet also poetic. Every sentence falls into place, as if part of a magnificent tapestry drawn in constants and vowels. I didn’t struggle reading this work and often found it difficult to put down even though I had work the next morning.

Essentially, if you’re looking to be challenged, or for a different take on the science fiction genre, then I’d highly recommend Irradiated. It’s excellently written, flows beautifully and pulls you deep into the world created.

You can grab this gem from any of your local Amazon stores today. 

The Pistol in the Desert

Metal gleamed under the light of the sun, flashing a signal to Robert and Lestrad. Quick, long, quick its pulses went—matching the shifting sand and the rhythm of the dune.

“Foggles,” Robert said as he touched the metal. “Foggles and pickles. It’s hot.”

“Use your shirt,” Lestrad snapped, his shadow looming over Robert. “It’s got to be worth something.”

“Ain’t burning this,” the smaller of the two tugged at his thin blue t-shirt. Doing so revealed a skin still trying to heal itself. “Replacing kit ain’t easy for me. No one benefacting my scavenges.”

“Because you don’t take risks,” Lestrad said, his giant hands pointing to the object. “You want me to teach you or not?”

“Yeah.” Robert tried to spit on the ground, but no slaver followed his action. His blistered and parched lips even seemed unable to make any sound without the aid of his vocal cords.

“Then use the shirt,” the hulking teen said. “Show them you’re willing to do what it takes.”

Robert swallowed, his eyes glancing at the seemingly endless sand around them. “Risks,” he eventually said, taking his shirt off. He winced as he bent down, the sun’s rays appearing to cause him pain on his recently exposed torso.

Carefully, he placed a tiny part of his top around the metal and pulled—a steel cylinder emerging from the desert floor, with an oddly shaped middle and wooden handle. Robert held it out from his chest, appearing to analyse the object in. A silver and black light zipped along the side of their discovery.

“It’s one of those things,” he said to Lestrad. “We’ve seem ‘em in the books.”

“I know what it is,” the bigger lad replied, his brown eyes becoming deeper, more focussed.

“What’s the name?”

“It’s a thing, and it’s worth a lot.”

“Ain’t you know?”

“Names aren’t important. It kills folk.”

After a few moments, Robert brought the object closer to his body and touched the handle with his other hand. “Cold now.”

“You sure you want to look after it?” Lestrad commented, stepping towards the smaller boy. “Had things taken from you before.”

Robert spun, and pointed the barrel at his companion’s chest, a finger now in front of the trigger. “Ain’t this how they used it in those moving pictures?” he said, his tone half-joking, half-suspicious.

“Seems like you got the hang of it.”

“You think it’s worth something? I mean, what if it don’t work?” The lights along the side increased their speed.

“It’s a killing thing Rob,” Lestrad said, taking a pace back. “Who you going to kill?”

“Old man Nizer. Beat me good and proper, till me back wouldn’t heal no more in the rays.”

“You deserv—”

“—Ain’t no one deserves that. Got someone else in mind?” Robert’s finger moved closer to the trigger.

“It’s a day’s journey to Lingform.”

“Then it be a day’s journey.”

They made it in half the time, Robert hanging at the rear, the item stuck down the front of his tattered pants. Nizer was exactly where he’d been the same day he’d beaten the smaller of the boys: standing outside of the goods store, whistling at women.

“Lookee,” he said as they approached. “All growed up and cleaned by the sun. God been good to you, Devil should’ve claimed your soul long ago.”

“He claimed my skin,” Robert snarled, clenching his fists.

“Told you, ain’t liking Dune-wafers in me town. Even if they’ve got the blessing of the Locater’s Guild.”

Robert snatched the item from his pants and pointed it at Nizer, the sun glistening off its long metal cylinder. “Don’t mean nothing no more, I’m taking this place.”

Nizer smiled, his yellow-and-green-stained teeth directly in contrast with his silver hair. “Hoo boy, a pistol. Well, ain’t it be me luck and fortune day. Get to beat a wafer and take his toy.”

He waved the pistol once more. The sound of him swallowing easily distinguishable from the gentle wind’s whispers. “This thing be for killin’,” he said.

Lestrad’s shadow changed positions, its direction now towards the front of the town.

“Ain’t that what you said?” Robert asked, his voice half pleading with the bigger boy to tell him he was right.

“Oh, it kill and kill alright,” Nizer answered, taking a step. “But be needing bullets. I got a stash of those, but me pistol went and got all fungused up.”

“Guess you’re due for another beating,” Lestrad said to Robert, taking another pace towards the town’s entrance. “Should’ve listened to me.”

“But…but…” Robert pulled the trigger, the gun clicked and the pulsating light went black.

Nizer’s lips turned into a snarl. “Wackin—” He was cut short by a single beam of silver that came out of the barrel. It penetrated the man’s chest, and everything beyond it, far into the horizon.

“What did you do?” Lestrad asked as the beam grew, getting thicker and thicker, a high-pitched noise starting to emenate from the pistol.

Robert dropped it, slicing Nizer in half. “That ain’t like in the movies.”

Once the silver line was the length of a man’s arm, it made a popping sound and turned into an expanding dome hundreds of metres high. The light it generated disintegrated everything in its path—except sand—and then exploded, turning the sky fiery red and yellow.

Flakes of brown swept over its handle, covering all but its metal cylinder. It gleamed under the midday sun—flashing quick, long, quick.

New from Niotech — Lorira

Your Position of Worth Getting you Down?

Struggling to maintain the appropriate responses in these uncertain times?

LoriraTM is here to help. Our innovative time-modifier (approved by the T.D.A) will allow you to live in the decade you were created for.

Wishing for the days when submissive and domestically adjusted women were dominant?

Searching for the world where men were chiselled from a hard’s day’s work while attending to your daughters?

Your inner-balance has arrived. 

Used by celebrities such as Yaj-P, Gibson Malwil and Luna Cruiz, this is the time-warp you’ve been looking for.

Don’t let the effectiveness procedures mould you into someone you’re not. Book an appointment with LoriraTM this time-space and live in the generation you were born for.

The Magnet and its Failed Coup

The terminal was old. Some said older than the stars, more ancient than the existing heavens. When the ale at the drink stations flowed over receptacles, haggard women and men would place bets they’d never collect on the date of the space hub. “A million years,” a person would declare, even though they didn’t know what that span of time looked like. “A billion,” another would say only because it was the largest number they could remember.

Its glittering surfaces, immense size and circular shape was a vision of beauty to travellers who had wandered for far too long. Or plotted the wrong route in the navcomputer. Somehow, without explanation or understanding, people always seemed to find it. They may have last been in the Foglary Quadrant. Perhaps even running on a damaged C-13 engine in the Newscomb sector, it didn’t matter though—the terminal appeared. It’s not that it didn’t have a way-point, it did. You could get there and back without too much hassle, but it was discoverable. If that was something Newton would bend his laws for.

The Magnet, the most recent visitors had nicknamed the place.

Twenty-five million humans existed there, only the other consulates knew how many other sentient lifeforms. Twenty-five million, but only a single Troy.

He’d arrived four decades ago, the last remaining survivor of a pirate raid. His jutting jaw and black hair giving way over the years to something more rounded and silvery. If there was an empirical average for homo-sapiens, he would have fallen squarely within it: a single job as a spaceship repairer, two kids and a wife who had named him snugglepuss.

The only reason he is worth mentioning, perhaps the only reason one mentions anybody on a station that vast, is because he upset several important people. Not intentionally, Troy was far too civilised for that. Rather, because he practised his Tai-chi in the middle of the busy Shinjawl bay, he foiled an assassination attempt on Senator Lewis’s life.

He upset the important folk long enough, one of them threw a teacup at a glittering wall. Then went back to making himself richer.

That’s all.