Tag Archives: mystery

Coming Soon: Ghosts of Rosewood Asylum, by Stephen Prosapio

28 May

Last year, I reviewed a far-from-soporific pre-Inception tale of somnambulant adventures, Stephen Prosapio’s novel Dream War.  I’ve recently been notified that science fiction writer Prosapio is coming out with a new book in mid-June.  Here’s what he says about the soon-to-be published novel:

 It’s more along the lines of a Paranormal Suspense. My one sentence pitch is:  Forced to work with a rival TV ghost hunting show, a paranormal researcher—who is himself possessed—investigates a 19th century asylum and uncovers as many dangerous secrets as he does spirits.

In what seems to be a continuing pattern of copycatting my work, Hollywood is coming out with a slew of paranormal movies this summer…including one of a TV ghost hunter who’s investigating a closed insane asylum.

In what seems to be another continuing pattern of book publishing trends, here’s the book trailer for Rosewood:

Review forthcoming.

More Miscorrection! (Panacea final verdict)

30 Apr

I’ve been a fan of B.C. Young’s LOST-esque Miscorrection series for some time now, and was thrilled to be able to read a copy of episode 4, Panacea, before it’s released.  So here’s what’s what:

Recommendation: When episode 3 (Felix Culpa) aired on the Kindle, I said that it was the most sophisticated installment yet.  But happy day, Panacea has surpassed it.  Young’s style is ever more self-assured and innovative.  Use of flashbacks gives the story depth, and builds up suspense as the main plotline moves forward.  Subtle twists enter the tale in Panacea, along with a couple great “aha!” moments.  But of course, as was both the best and most frustrating thing about LOST, for every answer we get there’s another question.  This is science fiction most certainly, but after reading Panacea I’m going to add “mystery” and “adventure” to the genre tally.

B.C. Young’s Miscorrection series has, as always, the Scattering’s full cyber-stamp of approval, and remains my favorite short story series to date.  You can’t buy this kind of entertainment for $0.99.  Oh wait, yes you can.

Reading Time: At roughly 1200 locations on the Kindle, Panacea is weekly tv drama length, meaning a read-through will take between 45 minutes and an hour.  Longer for me, because I went back to reread Felix Culpa first and see if I could pick up any clues.

Availability: The book’s not out quite yet, but the author is kind enough to give all of us Internet denizens a free peek on The Time Capsule: Miscorrection: Panacea Excerpt

The book will be available for the Kindle, the Nook (eww, gross), and on Smashwords in very early May (meaning, before May 3rd at the latest).

Make sure to check out the first 3 episodes of Miscorrection on Kindle TV before you jump into this one.  It’s like my grandfather once said: “I tried to watch that Lost show you like last night, but I didn’t know what was going on.  They were in a church talking about time travel.  Is that right?”

And if you care what I think, here are my previous reviews:

Kindle TV (Sunrise, Arrogation)

Happy Mistakes (Felix Culpa)

Knights in White Lab Coats (preview Miscorrection: Panacea)

30 Apr

For some reasons, scientists scare people.  It’s a cultural trope: mad scientists, evil geniuses, supervillains in high-tech bunkers underground.  And then we have people like Dr. Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in England who calls himself a cyborg and says things about “cyborg ethics” like:

Thank you, IrishTimes.com, for making this eminent professor look like he's trawling for children in chat rooms. Thanks a bunch.

“There’s no point thinking that we’ll [transhumanists will] do a deal with the humans and be nice to them. This is a leap in intellectual performance so why should augmented humans listen to what humans have to say? Potentially this will split society.”

Not only does he look really creepy in this picture (left), but he kind of is a legit cyborg.  For the record, I’m totally on your side, Dr. Warwick– transhumanists ftw!  So… please don’t hurt me.

The hilarious Flight of the Conchords have a song that pretty much sums up the popular conception of what might happen when science goes too far.  See “The Humans Are Dead.

But this is getting off-topic.

“Panacea,” story #4 of the Miscorrection series, is not about robotic beings ruling the world, or shutting our motherboardf*cking systems down.  There isn’t even Mad Science in the conventional sense (oh, except for that crazy doctor shut up in prison for, you know, dangerous research and other assorted bad stuff).  What’s so refreshing about Panacea is that the scientists are good!  The title itself, after all, refers to a cure-all, not world destruction.

What a relief.  I was getting tired of cliches.

Doc Atrasti is a man on a mission.  Determined to turn the aforementioned crazy scientist’s research to good use, he enlists a favorite character from past installments (Daniel!) on a guys’ hiking trip–and by “guys’ hiking trip,” I mean a top-secret mission in the alien mountains of the planet Cormos.  At last, all those bio majors have decent role models to look up to.

I can’t give away the ending, but I can tell you that Miscorrection: Panacea will be out soon (May 2nd), with the opportunity to read it for free on the first day of the release.  See the author B.C. Young’s blog The Time Capsule for more details: http://the-time-capsule.com/2011/04/19/miscorrection-panacea-release-date-is/

This has been the 200th post of the Scattering, and no series deserves that honor (er… let’s just say it’s an honor) better.  Which is why I am officially awarding B.C. Young with the Scattering’s Linus and Cromwell Award for Science Fictional Excellence.  This prize is this terrible picture of my two most favorite misunderstood individuals in fiction and history.

Congratulations!  I hope this win does not negatively impact your sales, but I make no promises.

Verdict? SEAMS 16: A New Home, by Eric B. Thomasma

29 Jan

Author Eric B. Thomasma wrote his debut novel in and out of waiting rooms.  He writes as a preface to the Kindle version of the book:

My father was battling cancer at the time and I took him to all of his appointments.  Writing became a means of escaping the depressing circumstances and helped me maintain a positive attitude toward the treatments.  Sadly, my Dad lost his battle before I finished the story, so he was never able to read it, but I like to think he would approve.

With that said, SEAMS16: A New Home is a SF mystery strong enough to stand on its own without preface–Thomasma writes with clear, clean prose and solid storytelling.  His protagonists undergo realistic changes as the novel’s stream of events begins to flow (Charlie from a hopelessly innocent student to a leader in the face of… well, corporate and extraterrestrial danger).

And while Charlie Samplin’s our hero, Thomasma crafts an equally compelling heroine in Susan Samplin, the space station technician’s sharp-witted wife.  If the cover art gives the perception that Susan’s a fragile little woman clinging for safety to her brawny husband, you’re being misled.  One of my greatest pet peeves about science fiction and fantasy is how poorly authors fashion leading ladies: so often they’re either non-existent, or implausibly two-dimensional.  But Susan Samplin can hold her own.

Reading Time: From a college student at the start of a busy new semester, two weeks.

Recommendation: Science fiction has gone mainstream–at least on television.  In the recent past and present we’ve had LOST, Fringe, The Cape, FlashForward, The Event, and V, just to name shows on the major networks.  The best way I can think to describe SEAMS16 is just that: mainstream.  Readers need not fear complicated jargon or subgenre in-jokes (as fun as those can be sometimes).  With stories of space travel, aliens, and creepy corporate entities so popular these days, any one who can read can read this book.

SEAMS16: A New Home is available as an ebook from Amazon for $0.99

Literature in a Facebook Note (review: Isobel, by Darren Scothern)

7 Jan

Let’s talk about Facebook.

Like most people, my list of friends includes the requisite number of half-remembered acquaintances who managed to creepily track me down despite the fact that my profile picture is Ben Linus’s face and I’m pretty sure I never gave them my name anyway.  They’re the people whose statii overflow with cliched observations about the transient nature of love or heartache or whatever.  They’re the kind of people who post their terrible rambling poetry on their profile as notes and get comments like “omg i know exactly what u mean!!!1!!1” or “you’re so brave!” or “UGH get over yourself” (and before you ask, no, that last one isn’t my comment… not to say that I don’t like it).

I’m not a fan of those people.  I’d even come to the conclusion that Facebook notes were useless and pathetic by their very nature until yesterday, when I read Darren Scothern’s novella Isobel. Darren Scothern is an award-winning horror/science fiction writer who’s bringing back the Facebook note in a big way–posting Isobel in serial installments on his wall before publishing on the Kindle platform in November 2010.  I still don’t quite know what’s going on–but whatever it is, it’s freaky and fantastic.  As the book description on Amazon says: “Take a trip into insanity.”

Isobel follows our narrator on his confused quest to research a peculiar rock band–but that quickly gives way to hallucination, madness, blood, psychosis, blood, sex, and a mysterious woman named Isobel powering a wheelchair (or is she?) and grinning from under her copper hair.

And that’s as coherent as I can get.  The fact that the narrator’s a horror writer writing in first person doesn’t clear anything up either.  As he writes in the intro:

How much of what follows in what you are about to read is true, and how much is just fantasy, I can’t tell you.  But, there is some of each.

That’s all.

And therein lies the genius.  Like Mark Z. Danielewski’s famous House of Leaves, Isobel is a highly stylized piece of writing less about the plot than the literary effect: surreal, confusing, dissonant, dark, dreamlike (or druglike), and utterly, utterly disturbing.  It’s the perfect example of cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling’s definition of “slipstream”–a quote, by the way, I have on my Facebook page:

“This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”

When done wrong, you get the worst type of postmodernist fiction.  When done right, you get the horror/SF amalgamation of Danielewski or Scothern.  And needless to say, it’s not easy to do right.  I don’t throw around the word “brilliant” very often (unless I’m talking about myself, naturally), and I almost never call something I review “literature,” but Darren Scothern’s writing fully deserves both descriptors.

I’ve heard it said somewhere that you know a book or a story is “literature” when you walk away from it feeling changed.  Isobel does that–in the most disturbing way.  Who’d have thought you could get that from a Facebook note?

Reading time: An hour… two hours… It took me longer, but then, I felt compelled to read the story twice.

Recommendation: This is one of the best (if not the best) piece of indie fiction I’ve reviewed on this blog, ever.  This post (if you couldn’t tell already) is an unqualified recommendation.

Availability: Isobel, along with Scotthern’s other short story collections, are available as Amazon ebooks (Isobel for $2.99).

Meet the New Boss (review: The Gender Divide)

18 Jul

True or False?  Although women comprise more than 50% of America’s work force, only 12 of those women are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (as of 2009).

That’s an easy question to answer—for both us in anno domini 2012, and the denizens of David Boultbee’s world in The Gender Divide, where a pharmaceutical quirk has led to women living roughly four times as long as men.  In this America (or should I say Noram—a conglomerate of the United States, Canada, and Mexico), it’s women dominating politics and business, and men relegated to “beefcake” roles in Hollywood.

Of course, everyone knows that women tend to have longer life spans than the less-fair sex, and that an adolescent girl is already about a decade older than an adolescent boy in mental age—but compound that by 400 years and this is a different world.

Turnaround’s fair play, bitches.

Here’s how it happens: someone in research and development at a SoCal pharmaceutical company called Delphi, Inc. takes a hint from those obnoxious YAZ commercials and gets the idea that women might pay to get rid of that pesky “monthly curse.”  The solution is the aptly named Menssation, the drug that stops menstrual cycles once and for all.  Which is all good and well until, a couple decades later, Beverly Hills plastic surgeons start to go out of business because women just aren’t aging like they used to.

(All right, so maybe I’m taking liberties with the history—but logically, I’m sure this is how it happened.)

As it turns out, women aren’t dying either. Who knew the toll Mother Nature was taking with that PMS?  With longer lifespans comes greater life and job experience, longer resumes, and overall skyrocketing qualifications for all those positions of power denied in the past.  Goodbye, glass ceiling.  And the resistance?  Wait a generation, and they’ll all be dead.

Yet at the same time a nation of female executives, presidents, senators, and supervisors may seem strange to us, there’s no stopping the status quo.  Or, as put so elegantly into verse by The Who: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Ryan Peters isn’t having it.  An ex-military man with more than a couple secrets, Ryan is one of the few males with a similarly-enhanced lifespan—and he’s using it to fire the opening salvo in a gender war unlike any the suffragists or feminists of American history every imagined.  Unwilling to tip his hat to the new constitution, Ryan sacrifices forty years of his life to the sole purpose of being groomed for an executive position as Delphi’s Vice President of Security.  The goal?  Steal the DNA polymerase that would make it possible for men to increase their own allotment of years and take back control of their lives, careers, and futures.

Things haven’t changed so much, though, that his revolution might not be halted by that age-old derailer of plans—attraction.

The result is a novel with the appeal of both a unique concept and a cast of characters embroiled in the classic drama of a love triangle.  David Boultbee’s The Gender Divide is, first and foremost, an engaging story, but does an excellent job as well in following in the tradition of science fiction as a mirror—not for the future—but for the present.

On his website, Boultbee describes his influences as a writer thusly:

I’ve always loved to read. I can’t recall precisely when Science Fiction and Fantasy became my favorite genres. I’ve always read so much that I think it happened gradually.

Most of my favorite authors today are current authors but I can’t discount the influence that Robert Heinlein had on me. I fondly remember books like The Door Into Summer, Starship Troopers, Citizen of the Galaxy, Space Cadet, Starman Jones, Double Star, and Between Planets. These books shaped me as a person and as a writer. The following excerpt from Wikipedia accurately describes the significance of Heinlein’s work.

“Within the framework of his science fiction stories Heinlein repeatedly integrated recognizable social themes: The importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress non-conformist thought.”

Most modern authors incorporate many or all of these themes into their work as a matter of course. It is Heinlein’s legacy to the writers who follow him.

Boultbee’s social topic of choice is the gender divide of our own twenty-first century—by turning the tables on men and women, he forces readers to see the world they take for granted as the far-less-than-egalitarian place that it is.  In some cases this message was a little blatant and could have been woven in a bit less obviously, but overall the novel keeps from becoming overly-pedantic.

Verdict? Blood Orbit, by John Derderian

9 Jul

The jury’s in:

Derderian’s one-man murder mystery is short, sweet, and flawlessly plotted. The author’s clean, sparse style puts the focus on the question at hand—Fred’s untimely demise—without freefalling out into the black of space; descriptive details make the backdrop and context of inter-planetary commerce completely believable without being distracting. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is superfluous in this tightly-written novella.

Reading time: Three hours, max—and that’s counting the thinking time required for those literary detectives hoping to figure out the ending before the ending (good luck)

Recommendation: Non-SF fans can appreciate Blood Orbit as a cute, clever story with all sorts of twists. At the same time, SF veterans will get some chuckles at details such as the nature of a “perp” in space (personal rocket pack).

Blood Orbit

is available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle for $1.99, as well as in other non-Kindle electronic formats.

Classic Whodunnit at Light Speed (review: Blood Orbit)

9 Jul

From Arthur Conan Doyle’s pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes to USA’s “Obsessive Compulsive Detective” Adrian Monk, when it comes to the mystery genre, there has to be a gimmick.

In Blood Orbit, John Derderian’s angle is pretty original.

Ted Warner is the copilot of the FT&N-1, flagship (and only ship) of Fred, Ted and Ned’s Hauling, Independent Cargo Carriers. Nothing out of the ordinary here—I’m starting to think that (if today’s science fiction augurs have their way) haulers, carriers, and cargo transporters are the space age working class.

In Ted’s universe, indie haulers are the lynchpin of the interplanetary economy—considering that it’s a solar system where “small-scale warfare was a regular part of commerce.” When Ted wakes up on the morning of chapter one, GM and Fujiwara are battling.

Lovely.

Here’s where Ted, Fred, and Ned (the co-partners’ female dog, naturally) come in: with corporations unable to trust each other as far as they can jettison each other, outfitting commercial carriers turns into building space tanks and warships. Putting transportation in the hands of small businessmen like FT&N proves more cost effective.

If all this sounds a bit dry, that’s because it is. Ted Warner’s life isn’t the most eventful (it’s seven months straight in space, seriously). So uneventful, in fact, that he’s looking forward to grabbing a drink with some brunette from Traffic Control—who he hasn’t seen in three years, on his last trip to Ganymede. Can we blame him? There is, after all, no one within a million miles—literally.

Chapter one, however, takes the reader to the morning the monotony breaks.

Ted wakes up and floats off his bunk in zero gravity to find a gory ship: his partner Fred bludgeoned to death and dragged around the ship, leaving a trail of floating globules of B-positive hanging “like a grotesque Christmas ornament.” Needless to say, crime scenes look different in space.

Not to mention Ned’s the only other person on the ship—or rather, remember, within a million miles. And that’s just the first chapter.

Blood Orbit is just over 1,100 locations on the Kindle—I’ve lost the ability to covert to physical pages, but considering that the average novel ranges from 8,000 to 10,000 locations, Derderian’s one-man mystery is more novella than novel. It follows Ted’s last 48 hours en route to Ganymede, during which he tries to solve the murder of his friend (and hey, not even he knows if it was the work of a brutally violent split-personality) and, without giving anything away, another mystery that crops up along the way.

It’s surprising that a story in which nothing actually happens can prove so engaging. Blood Orbit has a primary cast that can be counted on one hand (including the dog and the dead man), but that’s just an example of Derderian’s tight plotting—note to the reader: take nothing for granted… nothing.

Like any good mystery story, everything’s a clue; and even a Monk viewer who could always spot the perp before the final reveal couldn’t figure this one out. Heck, there was a block of time I was convinced it was Ned.

Whether it was or wasn’t, I’m not saying—and neither is Fred.

Beyond the Pale (review 2: Pale Boundaries)

7 Jul

The universe is full of bastards, Terson Reilly tells his probation officer.  And in Scott Cleveland’s novel, we meet a lot of them: from the vigilante Reilly to the shady poacher Neil Sorenson to the Hal Tennison, head of the Nivian mafia, Pale Boundaries gives readers a cross-section of an alien world’s underworld.

The second half of the book brings to the fore a character who’s been, until now, perhaps the one reputable, law-abiding man in the novel: Maalan “by-the-book” Bragg (and that’s actually his nickname, albeit from probatee Reilly).  When Bragg becomes a material witness in the murder of Reilly’s wife (oops, did I give that away?), his entire world comes crashing down.  Nivia, remember, is the organized, ordered, regimented and squeaky-clean planet of environmental zealotry and strict population control.  Shiny happy people, all.  But Bragg quickly discovers that the world is not such a civilized place as he imagined–something Terson Reilly’s known his entire life.  Culture is a veneer, and it’s kill-or-be-killed in the Algran Asta bush once more.  Bragg has some trouble adjusting.  Shoot, he gets ill at the thought of possibly killing a man.

Halsor Tennison has no such qualms.  And before I say anything else, let’s get this straight: as much as I’m inclined to call him a badass (okay, fine, I already do), he’s definitely public enemy number one and Pale Boundaries‘s scariest bastard, period.  Terson Reilly might break the law for the sake of survival, but it’s Hal’s way of life–and his is the friggin’ creepiest sociopathic demeanor on Nivia.  Though Hal wins the reader to his side up to the dramatic climax build in the fourth quadrant of the book–convincing me at least that his Minzoku rival Den Tun must be the epitome of scheming evil–Hal’s pretty damn quick to use a needle beam.  The best Hal Tennison, Murderer scene?

“I think that’s all I need,” Hal growled as he raised his arm and put a needle beam through the back of [censored for spoilers]’s head.  The man’s skull vented its contents though his eye sockets, spraying chum across the surface of the pool.  His body fell into the pool next to his son.  Spasms shook his body as he sucked in water, lost buoyancy, and sank.

“You shouldn’t have done that!” Tamara gasped.

“The gaijin betrayed Hal-san,” Dayuki declared approvingly.

Right, Dayuki.  The culture and history of the Minzoku unfolds elegantly through the course of the novel (about halfway through, we get an interesting explanation of the causes of humankind’s “Exodus” to the stars–something a blogger named after Frank Herbert’s diaspora is always interested it) and makes Dayuki a believable character in all her cold counsel and religious fanaticism.  In sum, Dayuki’s a pretty impressive sociopath herself, which is great: no science fiction novel can succeed without a couple seriously creepy characters.

Clever criminal or cold-blooded killer (too much alliteration there?), loyal second to seriously disturbed consort… these are some of the lines that our heroes (and bastards) cross in Scott Cleveland’s Pale Boundaries.  Beta Continent is one of the gray areas on the borderlands of Nivia’s strict black-and-white morality.  But ambiguity is nowhere greater than in the person of our protagonist himself, Terson Reilly.  He uses the titular terminology in his thoughts about the clash of cultures he represents on Nivia:

Guilt stabbed Terson under the ribs with such ferocity that he flinched.  Ultimately no matter who did the deed or the degree that Virene willingly participated, her death was Terson’s responsibility.  He was the one who led her beyond the pale of her society, made her the target of criminals… he who didn’t protect her when she needed him most.

And it’s not just Terson personally–it’s the entire set of survival assumptions he brings with him that pushes him over a cultural boundary:

Commonwealth law held that self-preservation was insufficient excuse to hazard another vessel or habitat and that doing so subjected the offender to the possibility of capital punishment.  The concept of death through voluntary inaction went beyond the pale of human instinct, but it was pounded into the head of every ship’s crew until their ears bled.

I imagine the very thought made Terson Reilly’s ears threaten hemorrhage.  This is, remember, the frontier man who was shot in the head at such a young age that his skull plates hadn’t yet fused.

I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that the resolution doesn’t disappoint.  But be aware: any book with a title like Pale Boundaries is bound to leave some ambiguity itself.