Posts tagged ‘sci-fi’

November 29, 2010

Book Review: Descendant by Bob Freeman

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DESCENDANT
by Bob Freeman

Belfire Press
(August 2010, $14.99, 332 pages)

Descendant, the first in a new occult fiction series by Bob Freeman, is divided into two sections, Book One and Book Two, with a rather complicated storyline. Book One begins with Dr. Landon Connors embarking on a difficult astral journey to contact a demon. Afterward, he has a brief conversation with an unusual companion, setting the tone for a story filled with fallen angels, werewolves, zombies, vampires, and other evil creatures seeking to bring about the downfall of humankind. Dr. Connors, a powerful magician, is informed that he has been summoned to a crime scene at a cabin he owns. The cabin is a way station for the Nightstalkers, a group that fights evil without government sanction. He meets Agents Wolfe and Crowe for the first time (but not the last), and together they try to track down a gargoyle in the immediate area.

Wolfe and Crowe are part of the Paranormal Operations Division of the FBI and frown upon the activities of the Nightstalkers. While Wolfe can cast spells and travel through the astral plane, she is not nearly as powerful as Dr. Connors, which is one of the reasons the doctor has been asked to assist them. Crowe has his own special talents and is one of the undead and he shares his unique tale with Connors. This is the first time I’ve read a story with a zombie for a main character that was not about a zombie apocalypse. They leave Connors to tidy up the loose ends and move on to their next investigation. The two agents travel from one monstrous crime scene to another, usually located in small Midwestern towns with long supernatural histories. They are expected to eliminate the threat, and cover up the real events with a fabricated explanation.

Book Two includes even more complex characters, such as Father Rainey and Mr. Drake. Both characters were briefly introduced in Book One and prove to be critical connections to the various rituals that the agents have been investigating, including a horrific satanic ritual and a meddlesome family that seem tied to everything that has gone wrong.

Until I reached Book Two, I thought this was just a random assortment of paranormal crime investigations by two FBI agents, Wolfe and Crowe. As I continued reading, each chapter revealed another mystery that guides the two agents further into a tangle of demonic scheming. I was drawn into the ritualistic drama leading up to a confrontation of biblical proportions, when all the secrecy is stripped away and a plot to unravel the world is finally divulged. While this novel could be a stand-alone – no wicked cliffhanger or blatantly open ending – Freeman plans to follow it with more in the Wolfe and Crowe series.

Descendant is not a story with an occult theme; it is a fictional novel based on Freeman’s detailed knowledge of the occult, with extensive terminology and background information. Freeman is the founder of the paranormal research group, Nightstalkers of Indiana. He is also a member of the Aleister Crowley Society and the Indiana Horror Writers. More can be found about the author at his website Occult Detective.

Ursula K. Raphael

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September 3, 2010

Book Review: Night of the Living Trekkies

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING TREKKIES
by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

Quirk Books
(July 2010, $14.95, 256 pages)

The title is a cheesy play on the popular zombie movie Night of the Living Dead, and the cover art looks like something that belongs on a choose-your-own-adventure book, but Night of the Living Trekkies is an awesome mash-up of two popular sub-cultures. How else to unite the sci-fi geeks with the apocalypse extremists?: zombies at a Star Trek convention.

They’re not traditional zombies, and the science fiction is reminiscent of Mystery Science Theater 2000, but authors Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall have done a fantastic job of pushing the boundaries of zombie literature. They have also fostered new respect for the dedication of Star Trek fanboys and fangirls. Anderson and Stall even managed to give a nod to the Star Wars franchise.

The prologue begins with two employees at an underground military facility in Houston, TX, making plans to go to a Star Trek convention; while they’re talking, the security system fails, opening some doors that should have stayed closed. Meanwhile, Jim Pike, a solider with serious PTSD who has convinced himself that working as a bellhop at a Houston hotel will reduce his stress, helps prepare for GulfCon, an extremely popular Star Trek convention. Incidentally, his younger sister Rayna is also attending with some friends. Let’s just say Jim’s bad day is about to get apocalyptic.

Before Rayna’s group arrives to the hotel parking lot (the importance of which I can’t reveal without spoiling the book) the staff is already having trouble with violent hotel guests and disappearing employees. Jim’s instincts are screaming at him that something horrible is happening but by the time he is able to convince anyone else that the problem is not just in his mind, the hotel is overwhelmed by zombies. Jim, with the help of a Star Wars fan, tries to rescue his sister and her friends, while Trekkies are dying all around them.

Star Trek fans should know that this isn’t just a horror story set at a convention, but again, I can’t elaborate without spoilers. Zombie fans should know that the undead are shamblers but able to move as a group, with a very unusual source of infection spread in a manner similar to 28 Days Later.

I am very impressed with the quality of books that Quirk has been publishing; some other great titles are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, and Android Karenina. They may look like fluff pieces at first glance, but the stories are quite entertaining.

~Ursula K. Raphael

August 18, 2010

Pop Music Tribute to Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury is best known for his novel of a dim, disutopic world, Fahrenheit 451, but over the course of his life he has written eleven novels, almost 400 short stories, and several screenplays. Now 89, we can’t help but wonder what the post-octogenarian Bradbury thinks of this tribute to his life’s work.

August 18, 2010

Book Review: Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile by J.L. Bourne

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DAY BY DAY ARMAGEDDON: BEYOND EXILE
by J.L. Bourne

Pocket Books
(July 2010, $15, 288 pages)

When I first discovered Day by Day Armageddon years ago, it was a self-published novel by first-time author J.L. Bourne. Loaded with typos and cheesy gimmicks like black and white photos, the journal format was still a welcomed addition to the zombie genre after The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead mania had ravished zombie fans. There have been two more editions since then (the first one had the simple black cover, the second one had the militarized look, and the third cover looked like a movie poster). By then, Permuted Press had picked up the book, and Bourne gained a massive following.

Day by Day Armageddon, the journal of an anonymous naval officer/pilot/expert-at-staying-alive, reveals the daily struggle of a military man who is on leave when the outbreak occurs. The setting is Texas, and the source of the outbreak is unknown. After finding out that several major cities in the U.S. are scheduled to be nuked, the soldier seeks out a secure location, safe from zombies and nuclear fallout. He finds other survivors, and they form a small group of men, women, one little girl, and a dog. They find refuge in an underground bunker known as Hotel 23. The journal ends with his group defending Hotel 23 from another group of survivors who are more of a threat than the undead. Meanwhile, the zombies seem unaffected by the radiation, and by spreading out from the nuked cities, they increase the threat of exposure to the outbreak.

Many readers described the main character as “right-wing,” and some complained that the book was overloaded with heavy military jargon. Bourne is an active-duty officer, which is why this sequel took so long, and why Day by Day Armageddon has a militaristic style. However, there is reason to believe he took the criticism into consideration when he wrote the sequel, Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile.

The writing has changed between the two books, even though they are both styled as parts of the same personal journal. Bourne still includes a lot of military terminology, but nothing so complicated that readers will have to run to the Internet to figure out what the characters are discussing. The entries in the sequel are much longer and more detailed than in the first book, a lot less like a journal in general and more like the personal story of a survivor divided by dates instead of chapters. Best of all, there are no cheesy pictures, though there are a few hand drawings.

The story begins exactly where it left off, after the battle with the other group of survivors. The explosions have attracted the attention of military convoy; while the soldiers are searching for the source, some Marines get trapped by a zombie horde, and call for help over the radio. An extraction group is sent out from Hotel 23, and they bring the Marines back with them. Although they go to great lengths to keep the location secret, after the Marines leave, they come back with more soldiers. In an attempt to avoid another bloody confrontation, the survivors come to a reluctant agreement with the military group. Soon after, the author of the journal finds himself separated from the safety of Hotel 23 when a scouting mission goes horribly wrong. In his efforts to find his way back he meets a sniper from Chicago and discovers a secret militant organization. When he finally finds safe sanctuary again at the end of the book, it’s quickly yanked out from under him.

It’s extremely difficult to write anything about this sequel without giving away major spoilers, but I will add that the zombies have been enhanced by the radiation. Beyond Exile was one of the very few zombie novels that frightened me at all. Bourne is taking his zombies in the direction of an epic nightmare. I recommend reading the first book, just for the background on the characters, but don’t expect the sequel to be much like it. I sincerely hope that Bourne can get out the third installment more quickly this time.

~Ursula K. Raphael

June 26, 2010

Trailer: Never Let Me Go

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Usually the fall is the time for terrific new releases in the world of publishing while Hollywood cools down from hot summer blockbusters and ramps up with tear-jerk films in time for the holidays.

Set to come out in October is a film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, starring Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan, both Academy Award nominees. Mulligan’s break-out role in a Nick Hornby screenplay was based on a long essay by Lynne Barber called An Education.

Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winning novel The Remains of the Day was made into a critically-acclaimed film in 1993. View the trailer for Never Let Me Go and get ready to cuddle with someone special.

May 30, 2010

Book Review: Death & Dishonor: Warhammer

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DEATH & DISHONOR (WARHAMMER)
Anthology – Various Authors

Black Library
(January 26, 2010, $8.99, 320 pages)

Over the years, the stories based on the Warhammer games & miniatures have gained their own following. No longer do you have to be a player to know the intricate details of this fantasy world, though it helps. Several of the books have branched into a series of novels, each with their own trademark characters. Populated with various races, such as elves, dwarves, and rat-men called Skavens, just to name a few, the world of Warhammer offers tales of bloody battles, political intrigue, and tests of faith. Bad guys are usually agents of Chaos – demonic forces accidentally unleashed upon the world, and the good guys are usually complex characters with loads of baggage that grow with each new adventure.

In Death & Dishonour, the Black Library has very wisely compiled a collection of the very best Warhammer fantasy sagas…a sort of literary appetizer that offers a sampling of the characters and creatures they have to offer. It would be unfair to write a general review of a book with nine different stories, especially when considering the talent of the authors, so I wrote about each one:

“Red Snow” by Nathan Long is a Gotrek & Felix tale set in the Mountains of Mourn. They’re guarding a caravan of merchants because Gotrek is hoping to find his doom along the way, but they’re delayed by an avalanche. A Sigmar priest, Father Gessler, invites them to stay in a nearby village while they dig out the mountain pass. He tells them about a monster roaming the mountains, so – of course – Gotrek wants to fight the monster. Long does an excellent job of writing a new story without disturbing the timeline of the Gotrek & Felix saga. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Shamanslayer.

“The Assassin’s Dilemma” by David Earle was a sweet surprise – I wasn’t expecting a Skaven story. This tale takes place years after Skavenslayer, but includes several references to the Battle of Nuln. Sneeq Foulblade of Clan Eshin has been contracted by Warlord Glut to steal human weapons, and kidnap the engineer, Werner Grunhelm. Grey Seer Qik wants to kill Grunhelm himself, so Sneeq is forced to make alternate plans…yet another example of Clan politics undermining the Skaven race. If you enjoy this Skaven tale, then you should read Grey Seer (Thanquol & Boneripper novel).

“Rest Eternal” by Anthony Reynolds begins with the last moments of a battle between the knight Calard and a wyvern, in the Grey Mountains – although, those few moments are described over several pages. For the life of me, I didn’t see a reason for stretching out the battle, until I read the twist halfway through the story. This was one of the most unpredictable stories I have ever read, and the best fantasy-fiction that I’ve read in a long time. Reynolds has an amazing imagination. If you like this tale, consider reading Knight Errant.

“The Miracle At Berlau” by Darius Hinks is a tale concerning a young man nicknamed Ratboy, and his friendship with a Sigmar priest, Brother Wolff. As the two struggle to defeat a creature called The Reaver, details are revealed bit by bit about how the two met, and how they came to be in a blown-up temple. I love that the priest teaching the boy to read, in the past, played a part in the discovery of “The Miracle.” It was a nice enough story, but not nearly as much action as I would have expected from a Warhammer tale, although his Warrior Priest is a good book.

“Noblesse Oblige” by Robert Earl gives us a taste of the Florin & Lorenzo saga. The story unfolds with a watchman happening upon some Skaven (yaay!) in a grain store, presumably up to no good, and quickly moves onto Florin & Lorenzo selling corn to an Empire merchant named Gristwald. Afterwards, Florin & Lorenzo decide to visit a fighting pit that has Skaven as entertainment. After a bad decision on Florin’s part (several bad decisions in a row, actually), the two find themselves in the middle of complicated murder plot, which leads to a unique mêlée. One of the best tales in the collection!

In “The Last Ride of Heiner Rothstein” by Ross O’Brien, Heiner is apparently already dead. The tale is told from the point-of-view of his son, Wolfram. Over half the story is spent describing the unrest among the pistoliers, who have been drinking and telling stories in their campsite. They all seem to be having trouble remembering the details of their previous battle. Eventually, they find themselves fighting again, and that is when Wolfram begins to see people he thought were dead. While the plot twist was slightly predictable, the very end was not at all what I expected.

“Broken Blood” by Paul Kearney is about two brothers, Gabriel and Michael, separated in battle by Chaos sorcery. Two years later, Gabriel is near the end of a campaign to find out what has become of his brother, and the details of the separation are revealed in Gabriel’s flashbacks. Most of the story is pages upon pages of his final battle with the Chaos horde, in which I began to lose interest. By the time he learned what had happened to Michael, I didn’t care anymore. Broken Blood failed to impress me as much as the first six stories did. However, the ending wasn’t too bad.

“The Judgment of Crows” by Chris Wraight centers around the Amethyst wizard, Katerina Lautermann, sent to save Herrendorf from the unquiet dead. Unfortunately, she does not have the support or confidence of the villagers. A Sigmar priest, Boris, tells her the mausoleum of another Amethyst wizard may hold the key to saving the village, but when she summons the spirit of the wizard Arfol, she discovers a horrible secret. This story is a decent zombie-fantasy tale. Wraight also wrote Masters of Magic.

“Wolfshead” by C.L. Werner is a Brunner the Bounty Hunter adventure. I am not a fan of the trilogy, but I still thought the story was well-written. Brunner is not happy about having to keep Victor Schwartz alive to collect his bounty; to make matters worse, while trekking through a dense forest, a witch appears to warn them that they are being hunted. I could see where the story was going right away, but it was still fun to read.

One of the things that I liked best about this collection was the length of the stories. I also enjoyed having so many characters and settings from the world of Warhammer brought into one book. If you’re already a fan, you’ll recognize a lot of the names, places and time frames but if you’ve never read Warhammer before, this is an excellent book to begin with. You’ll have an idea whether or not Warhammer has any fantasy sagas you would enjoy.
~ Ursula K. Raphael

 


Ursula K. Raphael is a 35 year old wife and mother of one child living in Grand Rapids, MI. She homeschools her son and in her spare time reviews books, music, and movies. In addition to her interest in sci-fi/fantasy literature, she’s also preparing for the zombie apocalypse. You can find her parent survival tips at http://www.zombiephiles.com/author/astradaemon