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SciFi / Fantasy / Horror

  • Asteroids: Escape from the Arcadians

    by Mike McCoy

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: “Asteroids: Escape from the Arcadians” is a well-plotted, fast-paced book. McCoy's narrative style flows well between the various characters' stories and holds the reader's attention with dramatic tension and enough twists to keep one eagerly turning the pages.

    Prose/Style: McCoy's combination of everyday language and scientific jargon is extremely well-balanced. There isn’t a boring passage in the book. McCoy has a gift for creating images using minimal words.

    Originality: Although asteroids hitting Earth is not a new story idea, McCoy manages to bring a fresh approach to his apocalyptic plot. From the futuristic weapons to the artificial atmosphere of New Arcadia to the vampire-like antagonist who gains immortality from the blood of children, to two characters' use of Klingon as code, this story is full of unique ideas.

    Character Development: The characters are realistic and believable in their actions and reactions. The hero, Rick, is a very likable and unlikely hero, an arc which McCoy carefully develops. The main villain, Colonel Cruikshank, is a dead-on representation of a sociopath bent on ruling the world at any cost. The supporting cast of characters is very diverse with little or no overlaps in either behavior or traits.

  • The Dark Rider

    by Shannon Kelley

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot:This story opens with a blazing inferno and keeps the pages turning with engaging descriptions, dynamic characters, unique races, and the mystery of a violent dark rider. That he anonymously saves a woman under attack early on, and displays additional acts of kindness, adds to the intrigue. The pursuit of this individual—man or mythical “elowan”—is as captivating as his ability to fend off the most determined attackers.

    Prose/Style:The descriptive voice is powerful and vivid here, helping to draw the reader into the places and people of this world.

    Originality:This story has the familiar fantasy foundation, with royalty, heroes, villains, honor, and exciting clashes all woven in. The inclusion of the likable boy Marren adds to the original spin, and the hint of his future is alluring.

    Character Development: Richly drawn characters are an element that will help to capture and hold readers' imaginations. Marren is a sweet, smart, brave 10-year-old, and the dark rider Yuriah is awesome in his fighting abilities. His capacity to learn is endearing.

    Blurb:An irresistible fantasy world, complete with brave battles, honorable endeavors, and an enchanting, unexpected friendship.

  • Lifeform Three

    by Roz Morris

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot:This novel is tightly plotted, and every tantalizing clue ultimately hangs together very well, without ever making the reader feel deceived. Readers will find themselves biting their nails worrying over how Paftoo and his horse will triumph, or at least survive. While not every question about the world, or even Harkaway Hall, is answered, most of the reveals can be attributed to Paftoo’s own limited knowledge. 

    Prose/Style:The prose in this book is engaging and evocative, conjuring striking images and surreal comic moments with equal skill.

    Originality:The premise of a robot gaining and hiding sentience is not particularly new, but this was definitely a refreshing and remarkably human take on the concept. Using the connection with horses sets it apart from similar stories. Although this is a novel of ideas, it has its feet firmly planted in the pathos of an individual who cannot conform. 

    Character Development:The characterization of a mostly robot and equine cast is slow to build, but once it sets in, it works beautifully. Readers will find themselves cheering desperately for Paftoo, and may be surprised to be rooting for characters who started out as antagonists.

    Blurb:A compelling tale about finding and keeping one’s soul, of the prices we pay for love, and how our worlds shape us and we shape them. 

  • A Magnet to a Flame

    by Shawn Patrick Cooke

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Cooke’s short stories effectively stand alone as concept-driven vignettes, while also harmonizing thematically as a collective.

    Prose/Style:Cooke offers an observant voice that is situated between cynical and earnest tones, creating an engaging narrative tension.

    Originality: The author infuses each story with fresh elements and perspective, as well as voice-driven energy.

    Characterization:While working in short form, Cooke impressively leaves readers with clear and lingering impressions of his characters.

    Blurb:Blending ingredients of the preternatural and absurd with centering emotional resonance, Cooke brings crackling energy, poise, and subtlety to his collection of stories.

  • Allister Boone

    by Torvi Tacuski

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The small twists and turns of Allister’s character being occasionally surprised, challenged, and frustrated, despite his near-eternity of cynicism, is the story’s consistent highlight. Occasionally the book slows down amid the parade of his patients, though most remain unique enough to stay interesting.

    Prose/Style: The vast majority of the book is either spoken dialogue, Allister’s mental dialogue, or catching the thoughts of others – all well done, particularly in the tricky balance of Allister’s thoughts reflecting what others are thinking.

    Originality: The immortal incarnations of Death and Time, who can’t be defeated, competing in a game against each other is an intriguing idea pulled off with sharp-fanged flair. The idea goes a step further, with Death being subject to the thoughts and emotions of those around him and souls he’s encountered – compounded with consequences of becoming unbalanced – which multiplies the reader’s desire to see how the contest is settled.

    Character Development: The reader sees bits and pieces of Allister’s abrasive personality crack to reveal something different now and then, but the more fascinating changes are the “pawns”, his patients. The changes he brings about in them, intended or not, keep the story fresh.

     Blurb: Death and Time, even in mortal appearance, cannot be defeated by anyone or anything. So when these two jaded incarnations decide to compete against each other, maybe a few mortals will be helped along the way – or maybe all of Creation will come to an end. 

  • The Void Within: The Cluster Saga Book One

    by Carlos R. Tkacz

    Rating: 7.75

    This novel is a very well-wrought old-school space opera. It presents its characters with a problem to solve at the outset—an impending war between the independent Inner Cluster and the unified Coalition provoked by suspicious causes—and through their individual efforts to uncover the truth it elaborates a future in which humanity has exploited imaginative new technologies to colonize the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Its pieces fit together neatly and accommodate a number of unforeseeable twists.

    Prose/Style: Tkacz’s prose style is simple and direct, which serves his story well. The author has a considerable backstory about humanity’s future to fill in over the course of the story, but he reveals it organically through the activities of his characters. This story never feels burdened with exposition or information dumps.

    Originality: The broad themes of this story—the sanctity of individualism versus the benefits of organized society, military versus diplomatic responses to a threat—are common to much classic space opera fiction, but the author finds novel ways to express them through the incidents and events specific to his plot.

    Character Development: The personalities of Tkacz’s main characters are largely defined by the function they serve for the plot, but the author gives each an important role to play. Admiral Raasch is the military leader skeptical of the motives of the politicians he serves; Q’biin Khalihl, representative of the Inner Cluster, is an outsider to the Coalition forces represented by Raasch; and mediator Aasben Meiind is a diplomat endowed with a wild talent. The personal differences they demonstrate and their coordination as an integrated team underscore the novel’s the themes of juxtaposed themes of individualism and community.

  • Late Dawn

    by Michelle Tanmizi

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot:The plot moves steadily and mostly linearly, with occasional flashbacks as the protagonist, Marra, uncovers additional information about her parents and their role in the state of the global crisis. The novel is a contained story with a satisfying ending that concludes character and plot arcs.

    Prose/Style:The writing is direct and succinct. Descriptions are clear and efficient without dwelling too long and slowing down the pacing. The dialogue similarly flows well and aids in the steady pacing of the book.

    Originality:The premise is original and unique. The author has cleverly extrapolated a modern scientific problem, wildlife conservation, into an exciting sci-fi premise. Marra’s efforts to stop the mass killing of animal species being seen as a hindrance to human progress provides a nice parallel to the current conservation crisis.

    Character Development:The story’s strengths lie in its setting and plot, but the characters do support the story nicely. The supporting characters, in particular Kate, are memorable and do have some nuance. While government officials--including the American president--are depicted, the role of the villain is largely faceless here, and the book would have benefited from a clear and developed character antagonist.

    Blurb:An exciting tale of a young woman determined to protect wildlife, even in a world where animals have evolved into giants with the power to wipe out humanity.

  • The King Who Disappeared

    by Hank Quense

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: "The King Who Disappeared" boasts an inventive and engaging plot that incorporates a time jump, revenge taken centuries after an earlier act of vengeance, government corruption and street-level politics, all bound up in a quest plot complete with a treasure hunt. Some rich thematic questions about the nature of leadership rise up naturally from all of this. The story would benefit from a slower pace, less abrupt ending, and more convincing, lived-in detail about this world.

    Prose/Style: The pared-down prose varies between a tight crispness, a fabulist simplicity, and too often a thin and somewhat generic simplicity. Key scenes, especially those involving action or combat, read like sketches, and readers often are quickly told about important or emotional events without being invited to experience them along with the characters. This is especially true with the book's material about a working class struggling under a corrupt ruling family's "wage restrictions."

    Originality: The book's main thrust is fresh, even inspired: A fantasy interrogating the difference between a king and a president, asking whether violent revolution could truly improve the lives of the populace, and whose plot turns cleverly on the importation of peat moss. But the world of Gundarland and the city Dun Hythe is thinly detailed, exhibiting only a few distinctive facets, like its sneeze Big Bang and its Troll Patrol. This lack of specific or striking detail limits reader engagement.

    Character Development: Quense wittily reduces his novel's heroes to archetypes and then to an almost abstract force for justice sweeping across Gundarland to confront the characters who truly command his attention: the villains. These include a centuries old king "dwelf" king, his two scheming and comically greedy offspring, and an undead halfling vicar figure, all scheming against each other in the book's strongest scenes. Also quite compelling is the meritorious bureaucrat who must team up with the Godmother crime lord for protection and to right some wrongs. The characters would shine brighter, perhaps, if their schemes were more complex or faced greater complications.