The Whole Art of Detection by Lindsay Faye

Chupa sitting proud.

Narrator: Simon Vance

Publisher: HighBridge (2017)

Length: 11 hours 15 minutes

Author’s Page

This collection of Holmes & Watson stories is charming, entertaining, and fulfills my need for stories of this great literary duo. The book is divided into 4 parts. Before Baker Street has stories of the time before the two met each other but they are told in a style that shows the two men know each other now and are sharing these past adventures.

In The Early Years part, Watson and Holmes have their first cases together, still working out their professional relationship and building a friendship.

The Return shows us Watson’s anger and distress at over losing both Holmes to Reichenbach Falls and his beloved wife Mary to illness, yet to find out that Holmes was still alive is well done. I don’t believe I have ever seen Watson so hurt and angry, and rightly so!

Finally in The Later Years, these stories feel like the traditional Doyle stories where Watson and Holmes work well together, have a solid friendship, and can still irritate one another from time to time.

feel like the traditional Doyle stories where our heroes are master sleuths and get along well with each other’s peculiar quirks.

The Case of Colonel Warburton’s MadnessWatson is attempting to entertain Holmes with a tale of his past before he met him. Set in the Wild West, Watson describes some strange goings on with Colonel Warburton and how this upsets his doting daughter. I really enjoyed this tale as I would like to see some alternate history where Watson and Holmes spend years in the desert Southwest solving cases. 5/5

The Adventure of the Magical MenagerieHolmes really does have a heart and it shows in this one. We can also see why he keeps it tucked away most times. Definitely an interesting way to hide your illegally gotten goods! It wasn’t my favorite but it was still good. 4/5

The Adventure of the Vintner’s CodexThis story really felt like a match for the original Doyle collection. Holmes can be a complete irritation to Watson and his way of ‘apologizing’ is to tell Watson a tale of stolen music. Parts were charming and heartfelt and a few times I chuckled. 4/5

The Adventure of the Honest WifeI really enjoyed this one! Sure, Holmes sometimes goes on about the ‘weaker sex’ and yet he often tries to set aside his harsher self to help a lady out.. unless he thinks her faithless. Watson notes how Holmes has an aversion for the female gender entirely. There were some great twists in this one. 5/5

The Adventure of the Beggar’s FeastThis was also a favorite story of the batch. I have often wondered what it would be like if Holmes was a father figure for someone and this story helps to answer that. I love that he was a bit flustered when Watson figures out what he was doing. I can even picture Holmes blushing. 5/5

Memoranda Upon the Gaskell Blackmailing DilemmaThis is one of the tales told from Holmes’s point of view and I get such a chuckle out of his straight forward, honest, and yet often acerbic observations of people and their activities. While Watson is off dealing with the hounds on the moors of Baskerville, Holmes has to sort out a blackmailer. There were some surprises to this one. 5/5

The Lowther Park MysteryOK, this one was just cute. It was fun but went by really fast. He’s been maneuvered into attending a social dinner party that’s brimming with important people. Watson gently teases him over his distaste of socializing. Engineering a charade, he uses that distraction to foil the plans of some nefarious people. This story also introduces Holmes’s brother Mycroft. The plot was a bit light on details. 4/5

An Empty HouseLestrade makes an appearance in this sad tale. It’s from Watson’s journal during the time shortly after his wife passed away. It’s a weighty piece, probably being the saddest story in the bunch. 4/5

The Adventure of the Memento MoriThis story showed the depths of the friendship between Watson and Holmes and also how hurt Watson was over Holmes’s presumed death. There’s acknowledgement, regret, and acceptance. Of course, there’s this deliciously creepy mystery going on as well. 5/5

Notes Regarding the Disappearance of Mr. James PhillimoreThis was a quick and fun tale. I guessed early on what was going on but it was interesting to see Watson put it all together. I do believe that Holmes had guessed the truth of the matter early on but was letting Watson gather up evidence to support his supposition. 4/5

The Adventure of the Willow BasketIt’s interesting to see Holmes’s rationale for handing off credit for solving various mysteries to Lestrade. Not that Lestrade is stupid but sometimes he portrayed as heavy-handed or a bit bumbling. I liked Faye’s take on his character in this story. Leeches. Gotta watch out for those leeches! 4/5

The Adventure of the Lightless MaidenThe Victorian age was in love with the supernatural and it’s quite fun to see what Holmes and Watson make out of a case that apparently involves a ghost. I enjoyed the technical aspects to it. Photography was really coming into it’s own at this time as well. 4/5

The Adventure of the Thames TunnelFor some reason, this one didn’t really stand out to me yet I don’t know why. Usually I enjoy tales that feature a shadowy organized criminal element, such as the Iron Hand in this story. There’s a jewel thief dead in the Thames Tunnel and our hero duo has only questions to get them started on the mystery. There’s revenge at the heart of the matter. It was fun but not one that stood out for me.  3/5

The Adventure of the Mad BaritoneThis was an unexpected one. It was a bit twisted and I totally agreed with Holmes’s anger over how the homeless opera singer was treated and a distressed woman was tricked and cheated. Holmes and Watson were very decent in how they revealed the truth to the woman and also assisting the singer. 5/5

Notes Upon the Diadem Club Affair Here we have the second story told from Holmes’s point of view, which I really enjoyed. In fact, I wish we had more stories from his point of view. Watson is always so polite and usually kind, so I enjoy these tales that shine a harsher light on all the participants. The mystery was OK but the story was pure fun. 5/5

This is a pretty good collection of Holmes & Watson stories. While there is no one central female character of note (though Mrs. Hudson puts in a few appearances), the female characters come from a variety of backgrounds and with varying degrees of intelligence. Even when I felt this or that character was rather gullible, they were still very human. The ladies weren’t merely filler or someone to be saved or assisted. Often they added to the mystery.

It was really great to see Watson’s medical expertise come into play more than once. Some authors give this skill set a mere nod or simply pass it on by. Not so here, thankfully! Watson worked hard for his medical knowledge. It should be put to use.

All together, I enjoyed this collection of stories more than I expected. This anthology provides depth to the beloved duo.

I received a free copy of this book through LibraryThing.

The Narration: Simon Vance is absolutely lovely to listen to. I loved his clipped voice for Holmes and his warm, caring voice for Watson. He had a variety of accents and his female voices were mostly believable. He kept all the characters distinct and did a great job portraying the emotions of Watson and Holmes.

What I Liked: The stories cover the many years of their friendship and then some; a dabble of the paranormal; Sherlock’s secret heart where it concerns wronged women and homeless kids; Watson’s anger and sadness over losing his wife and Holmes; healing the rift between the two; helping Lestrade build his career; the stories from Holmes’s point of view.

What I Disliked: I would have enjoyed a few more stories from Holmes’s point of view.

What Others Think: 

The John H Watson Society

Reading Reality

Book Page

Criminal Element

The Baker Street Babes

Rhapsody in Books

Historical Novel Society

Booker Worm

20 Something Reads

Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction & Horror, edited by Mark Matthews

Narrator: Rick Gregory

Publisher: Wicked Run Press (2017)

Length: 8 hours 29 minutes

Editor’s Page

This anthology focuses on addiction, mostly drug and alcohol addiction. They range from science fiction to horror to the paranormal. The editor opens with a short foreword about addiction and his hopes that this anthology will provide some insight into the struggle of addicts and hopefully bring about some compassion for those suffering from addiction. Even if this anthology doesn’t do that for you, it’s still quite entertaining, insightful, riveting, sometimes disgusting, usually disturbing, and chock full of examples of bad decisions made.

A Wicked Thirst by Kealan Patrick Burke

Melinda and this guy, our unnamed narrator of this story, meet at a bar. They go back to her place and have sex, sort of. Then he wakes up out in the street being drowned in a rainwater puddle. A specter of Steven Carver, his former AA sponsor, reminds him of his failures. The timeline jumps around a little as our alcohol-sodden character tries to muddle through the night. What’s real, what’s not? What’s in the present and what’s in the past? This tale did a great job of showing the inner confusion of someone deep in the clutches of alcoholism. There’s this scene where this guy is burying his daughter’s dead cat and he cries, not for the cat, not for his daughter, but for himself and stuff that happened during his own childhood. This scene really brought home how this character has so much stuff that’s left unresolved in his life. 5/5

The One in the Middle by Jessica McHugh

Set in a future 2080s Patterson Park in Baltimore, the new drug of choice is Atlas. Heavy users like to inject it directly into their genitals, giving them a long-lasting incredible high. Perry Samson is still obsessed with his ex-wife Serina. He watches her from afar and thinks of her when he masturbates. He needs another high but his junkie friend Loshi thinks it’s high time Perry be the one to score and share. The author shows us the keen edge of depravity in this story. The Atlas junkies are willing to sell their flesh for a hit and some cash. Meanwhile, the rich who can afford the delicacy of well prepared human meat enjoy it in swanky restaurants. It reminded me of high school and college students who would sell plasma to go buy some pot. This was my favorite story in the bunch easily. I love the future SF setting (there’s TVs spread throughout the park showing The Wire reruns with all the hopeful scenes cut out) and yet we still have this drug culture, one in which there’s those who suffer and those who profit from it. 6/5

Garden of Fiends by Mark Matthews

Terra Snyder is in Narcotics Anonymous, living with her parents and trying to get her life back together. Then her former boyfriend Brett unexpectedly shows up. He’s in the Work Release Program while in prison. Against her better judgement, she goes with him to Russell’s place where they used to buy their drugs and hangout. The author shows us step by step how easy it is for someone to be roped back into the users lifestyle. The point of view bounces back and forth from Terra to her dad Gregory throughout the story. Gregory, Heather, and their daughter Terra (somewhat reluctantly) have been working on this urban farm in the middle of Detroit. Heather is one of those always upbeat, optimistic types who would never give up on her kid. Gregory, while not a perpetual optimist, would do anything to keep his daughter safe. This tale really showed how the blame game turns into an excuse to either shuck responsibility for past bad deeds or to commit more bad deeds. 5/5

First, Just Bite a Finger by Johann Thorsson

This bit of flash fiction dealt with a different kind of addiction, but I feel the spirit of it (exploring a new-to-you high) could be applied to any new addiction. Julia, 39, went to a party, buzz wearing off, so she’s looking to try something new. This guy Toussaint bites off the tip of his pinky finger. Julia thinks it’s a trick. However, as the week goes on Julia notices bits missing from her friends. This little horror flick ended a bit too soon for me. I felt there was more for Julia to tell us. 4/5

Last Call by John FD Taff

Ted is in AA but he keeps falling off the wagon, going from group to group. His sponsor Sam reluctantly sends him to a liquor store with a special card, telling him to ask for the last bottle he will ever need. The store owner gives him a little lecture about choosing life or death. The unlabeled bottle is referred to as a shortcut, which I thought was a great way to show later on that there is no shortcut when it comes to dealing with addiction. The story leaps forward 5 years here, 10 years there, etc., showing how Ted’s life has changed and yet how this shortcut bottle is still tucked away, hiding in his closet. The ending is left dangling and I would have liked a line or two to close it out. It would have made the story more poignant or hopeful depending on how things ended. 4/5

Torment of the Fallen by Glen Krisch

Maggie is headed from Phoenix to Aurora, IL to hunt down her long-lost father, Desmond Gabriel. She can see demons and her online paranormal activities, where she goes by Jenny Halloween, have finally given her a hint as to where her father is. Her father, a homeless man, was mentioned on a paranormal chat site, Torment of the Fallen. She meets a short man that goes by Cheddar near the supposedly haunted house where her father sometimes crashes. I enjoyed this story because it had that urban fantasy feel to it where demons were being investigated and a lost person would be found, hopefully. If this story wasn’t in an anthology that focused on addiction, I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on those elements of the story. I hope we see more of Jenny Halloween in the future. 5/5

Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will by Max Booth III

Jeremy, 26, is bleeding from his urethra. Perhaps the hepatitis is getting to him though he asks his lover Eliza if she bit him. He hasn’t told her about his hepatitis yet. At work, it gets worse so he goes to a clinic where he runs into Nick, a former junkie friend. He has one confrontation after another and things get worse and worse for him. Let me just whisper it to you – spiders. Yep. This was easily the most creeptastic and scary story of the anthology! I don’t even have a penis or hepatitis and it made me shudder. 5/5

Returns by Jack Ketchum

In this short tale, Jill Hunt’s husband’s spirit returns from the dead. She’s been drinking since he was run over by a cab. He thinks he’s returned to help Jill get past his death and not succumb to alcoholism. She can see and hear him but she thinks it’s all in her head. This little story was rather sad as it involved a pet and this failed relationship. I felt that things were left a bit unresolved as I wanted to know what ultimately happened to Jill or her husband’s spirit. 4/5

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Rick Gregory did a pretty good job with this anthology. There was a lot of ground to cover, that’s for sure! His female voices were pretty good. Melinda and Terra sounded like women. For the most part, he had distinct characters though in the story Garden of Fiends he occasionally sounded a bit mechanical and the characters weren’t distinct (I had to follow closely the dialogue between Brett and Terra to keep straight who said what). In the entire book, I only caught a single mispronounced word – conflagration. It just happens to be one of my favorite words and that’s why the butchering of it stood out. The pacing and volume were all well done. Over all, a well-done narration.

What I Liked: The variety of substances abused; the different genres; the various tones; spiders!; genital drugs!; great cover art; pretty good narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing, it was an interesting, enlightening, and entertaining anthology.

What Others Think:

Grim Reader Reviews

Horror After Dark

The Horror Bookshelf

Horror Novel Reviews

Book Den

Lee Murray

Bark’s Book Nonsense

Apex Magazine Short Fiction Podcasts #11-15

Smudge kitty

Apex Magazine regularly puts out a podcast that features short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Below are my reviews more of the podcasts. You can find all their podcasts HERE. Podcast #11 was narrated by Windy Bowlsby, Lolly Foy, Tim Wick. Windy also narrated #12,13, and 15. Chikodili Emelumadu narrated #14. Apex Magazine is currently doing a Subscription Drive through April 17, 2017 and they have plenty of interesting bookish things up for grabs – autographed books, postcards, the entire Apex Magazine ever, even knitted hats. Yes. I bought a signed copy of The Buried Life by Carrie Patel and it’s already here! Knitted. Podcasts 1-5 are reviewed over HERE. Podcasts 6-10 are reviewed over HERE.

Podcast #11: Not Smart, Not Clever by E. Saxey

This was a clever little piece, being about 30 minutes long. Four university students spend a lot of time and effort on faking their essays instead of writing them. There’s some neat cyberpunkish tech too. The main character, Lynn, tells most of the story. Barb freaks out often, scared she’ll get caught. Zack, Lynn’s nerdy boyfriend, is a nice addition to the mix. A few sound effects were mixed in though I wasn’t sure about this particular one – was it to indicate chatting over a phone or was there suppose to be rain in the background? The mixed narration (3 narrators) was smoothly done. I felt they were all in the same room during the recording.

Podcast # 12: Soul of Soup Bones by Crystal Lynn Hilbert

Wow! Just simply wow! This was a fascinating and elegantly written short story about necromancers. It made me hungry. Yep. That’s right. I wanted to be cooking right alongside the two main characters. I love how the story wound me up just as Adrienne was winding herself up. She’s so frustrated that she cant find the key to the spell. She put a lot of effort into finding the bones of that necromancer and still no answers were forthcoming. At least until later in the story. But I will leave that for you to discover. The narration was very good on this production. I think the narrator also enjoyed the tale. ~20 minutes long.

Podcast #13: The Food in the Basement by Laura Davy

This is a deliciously creepy story about a vampire and the human he feeds on. I love the way the vampire is described in this story. Kaden is something otherworldly when he’s feeding. It was a good ending too. I’m all for the chinchilla having a good home. The narration was excellent. ~16 minutes long.

Podcast #14: Juniper and Gentian by Erik Amundsen

This was a complex bit of science fiction. I liked it but I think I would have appreciated it more if I had eyeball read it, or perhaps I should listen to it twice to catch all the nuances. Gentian (Gen) is a spaceship, I think, and is sentient to a point; or, rather, she is sentient in a way that we can barely comprehend. Anyways, there’s lots of beautiful prose and imagery in this little tale. The narration was also good even though I don’t think English was the first language of the narrator. Her voice lent an foreignness to Gentian which definitely added to the story. ~18 minutes long.

Podcast #15: Economies of Force by Seth Dickinson

~37 minutes long. It’s an interesting piece. In a world where everyone’s tendencies, words, and mannerisms are monitored by a much removed automated system, there are those that strive to break out of the normal mode and be individuals. However, this often results in catastrophe for those individuals and small groups. Even so, there are a few brave souls that document the drone raids and the random executions. This is a food for thought story. The narration was also quite good for this tale.

Apex Magazine Short Fiction Podcasts #6-10

Apex Magazine regularly puts out a podcast that features short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Below are my reviews more of the podcasts. Podcasts 1-5 are reviewed over HERE. You can find all their podcasts HERELynne M. Thomas narrates Podcast #6. Podcasts #7, #8, #9, and #10 are narrated by Windy Bowlsby. Apex Magazine is currently doing a Subscription Drive and they have plenty of interesting bookish things up for grabs – autographed books, postcards, the entire Apex Magazine ever, even knitted hats. Yes. Knitted.

Podcast #6: What You’ve Been Missing by Maria Dahvana Headley

Betty’s husband is losing it. Somewhere, there’s hooves beating upon waves and it seems he’s the only one who can hear them. Wow! This was an intense story. It’s sadly sweet with a touch of magic to it as well. ~19 minutes long. The narrator did a good job with this one, especially portraying the emotions of the frustrated man.

Podcast # 7: Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

In 30 minutes, Vernon has painted a desert full of magical beings. The story focuses on the jackalope wives. They dance to firelight and their grace and alien beauty attract Granma’s reckless grandson. Pretty soon, damage is done and it’s up to Granma to fix it. This was an elegant piece that says so much in a short amount of time. Being a desert dweller myself, I really liked the jackalopes with their little horns. Granma is the unsung hero of this tale. The narration was very good complete with various character voices.

Podcast #8: Maria and the Pilgrim by Rich Larson

This is another excellent podcast. Set in a small village, the pilgrim is coming and all the villagers give thanks to Jesus. There’s little hints along the way that the ‘pilgrim’ isn’t what the villagers think he is. The villagers themselves, including young Maria, all have an odd but important mutation. It’s simply an excellent story. The narration was very good on this one. There’s a variety of character voices and Bosby performs both male and female voices very well. ~30 minutes.

Podcast #9: Waking by Cat Hellisen

This is an eerie story about angels. In fact, I’m not convinced they are angels but the people in the story have no better name for them. From the sky, silent and unmoving, they would expire shortly upon touching the earth. Three siblings may be the key to understanding them. It’s an interesting little piece. I feel it ends a bit too early as I really wanted to see where things go from there. I will have to look up the author and see if she ever built upon this tale. The narration was really good. I liked the kid and teen voices used for the characters. ~30 minutes.

Podcast #10: Repairing the World by John Chu

This story took a little bit for me to understand what was going on. Set in a world where men and women, for the most part, have distinct roles in society, Lila and Bridger break some of those societal rules. Lila repairs rifts between worlds and actually attends university – very unladylike! I really enjoyed her character and could feel her frustration at being hampered by society believing that women were unfit for certain duties. Meanwhile, Bridger is a linguist, which is a pretty mighty job as there are plenty of people popping in and out of their rift-torn world that need to communicate. Bridger also prefers the company of men but he lives in a world where homosexuality is an arrestable offence. Once I got into the story, I was caught up in these two main characters. It’s them that pulled me and wouldn’t let me leave their tale until it was over. The narration was great on this one. Bridger sounded like the big moody, gruff guy he was. Lila sounded a little precocious as she worked hard to keep her job. ~30 minutes long.

Apex Magazine Short Fiction Podcasts #1-5

Apex Magazine regularly puts out a podcast that features short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Below are my reviews of the first few podcasts. You can find all their podcasts HERE. The narrator for all five is Lynne M. Thomas.

Podcast #1: If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky

Coming in at just over 5 minutes long, this short piece poses the question of how life might be if your lover was a dino. What shape they would take, how the lovers’ lives would be spent, and how their relationship would bolster science to new heights of bio-engineering. I loved how the author didn’t try to sugar coat what living with a dino would mean. It’s a meat eater. There might be a little gore. It was a fun piece and the narrator did a good job.

Podcast #2: The Face of Heaven So Fine by Kat Howard

In this short fiction (~5 minutes), Rose explores her curiosity about Juliet. It gives new meanings to both ‘love token’ and also ‘lover’s mark’. This luscious little tale shines a new light on love lost. The narration has a few mouth noises but the piece was so engaging I didn’t mind.

Podcast #3: Someone Like You by Margaret Ronald

Oooo! If you enjoyed Peter Clines’ The Fold then you will appreciate this nearly 12 minute long story. Asim and Athnay (I apologize if I have butchered character names) are two scientists working on a project that could change the world. However, a little glitch, something unexpected happens and a second chance is born. The ending was a little poignant, giving weight to the tale. The narrator did a good job.

Podcast #4: Becca at the End of the World by Shira Lipkin

This is a touching story about the end of the world via zombie apocalypse. A mother and daughter share some touching moments together. In only ~9 minutes, Ms. Lipkin managed to squeeze a sympathetic tear out of me. This little tale pulls on the heart strings. Excellent job by the narrator – no mouth sounds and she has clear, distinct voices for the the two characters. She was also excellent at portraying the emotions of the characters.

Podcast #5 This Is a Ghost Story by Keffy R. M. Kehrli

In 16 minutes, the author covers some serious ground. From protests to suicide to commercialism to unrealized dreams. It’s a piece that stirs the blood and makes one wonder where their inner rebel went. There is a cat in the background during this narration and its meows kept on tricking me and my cats. This gave me a chuckle. The narrator did a great job giving attitude at all the right places.

That Strange Beauty of Apex Magazine

Heya Folks! I’m giving a shout out about Apex Magazine, a wonderful science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazine, featuring not only short fiction but also SFF/Horror/Mashup poetry. Every month Apex gives us a mix of originals and reprints, interspersed with interviews and nonfiction. Some of the featured authors have included: Mary Robinette Kowal, Saladin Ahmed, Genevieve Valentine, Amal El-Mohtar, Forrest Aguirre, Nick Mamatas, Theodora Goss, Nalo Hopkinson, Lucy A. Snyder, Cat Rambo, Jeff VanderMeer, Seanan McGuire, and Jennifer Pelland. Amazing new writers such as Indrapramit Das, T.J. Weyler, Alex Livingston, Ursula Vernon, Kathryn Weaver, Kelly Barnhill, Douglas F. Warrick, and Jeremy R. Butler have also been a part of Apex. And don’t forget that podcast!

Each new issue is posted piecemeal throughout the month and placed on sale the first Tuesday of every month. Content can be read for free via the website. Alternatively, annual subscriptions are available and all our issues can be purchased in single issue formats (ePub/mobi/PDF or from the Kindle and Nook stores–these versions contain exclusive content such as classic reprints and novel excerpts). [I borrowed this bit directly from their website.]

Now Apex is hosting a subscription drive to raise funds. Folks like Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner put in a lot of effort to make Apex awesome. Revive the Drive has more than just Apex subscriptions to offer. There’s collectible art, signed editions, precision roasted coffee (yes, indeed, fancy coffee!), hand-knitted items, and more!

Find Apex on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Science Fiction Anthology: Volume 1 by Ray Jay Perreault

PerreaultScienceFictionAnthologyVolume1Narrator: Christopher M. Allport

Publisher: Raymond  J. Perreault (2016)

Length: 2 hours 42 minutes

Author’s Page

In order of individual publication, here are my reviews of the stories contained in this anthology.

The Greatest Host

In this short and amusing story, Ilrod and his fellow organisms (known as the Mists) have had to abruptly leave their planet where they shared a symbiotic relationship with their hosts for many years. Now, alas, the planet is destroyed and many of the Mists have been lost. It takes many, many years, but they eventually reach another habitable planet and begin their search for a new host species.

This was a cute story that gave me several chuckles. The Mists made me think vaguely of jellyfish in that each Mist is made up of individual molecules that cooperate together to make one functioning being. The Mists look like just how their name implies and they search for symbiotic relationships with other animals.

I enjoyed the last few minutes as Ilrod and his fellow Mists discover a new species to play host to them. The descriptions from Ilrod’s point of view were amusing and I quickly guessed what kind of animal they had come upon. Once again, the author has provided quality entertainment.

Circle Is Closed

Commander Leopold Harnessy is leading a mission to test a new FLT (Faster Than Light) technology. The humans of planet Horizon hope to find old Earth and perhaps resettle her but first a test ship must be sent to see if the new tech works. If it does, then larger ships could be sent the same way. The Horizon humans left Earth many, many generations ago but they still revere her. Now, they wish to reclaim that heritage.

Harnessy must leave his family on Horizon as he undertakes this possibly dangerous mission. His daughter Rose asks him a serious question about Earth during the send off ceremony. Harnessy hopes to find the answer to it and many other questions. When Harnessy & crew arrive at Earth, she is healed of all the environmental damage that forced humans to leave her so long ago. However, Harnessy and his shipmates are met with a surprise.

The author did a great job for such a short story. There’s plenty to consider in this compact tale. I was quickly drawn into the tale. There’s some big questions the main character has to consider, both before he leaves Horizon and once he gets to Earth. While the story moves swiftly along, it has depth.

Progeny

The 4 laws of conformity have maintained a functional society for generations: 1) Continue making units; 2) Protect all units already made; 3) Expand the knowledge base; and 4) Maintain variation in thought. Helen strives to follow the last 2 laws in her scientific studies.

I quite enjoyed this tale of non-organic beings and their well-organized society. Helen and Lorenzo often join Eve and Roberto for dinner and discussion. Helen is a bit fascinated by the local DNA-based life forms, but the topic is considered a bit gauche. Nevertheless, Helen and her lab assistants (Ivan and Lorraine) want to continue their observations.

What Helen and her assistants discover is rather disturbing to not only herself, but to her society. It was pretty cool how the author had the main character discovering this long-forgotten truth and how her immediate friends and colleagues react. It’s akin to when humans started accepting that the Sun, and not Earth, was the center of the solar system. I’ve read Perreault’s SIMPOC books, but this is my favorite of his works so far. Definitely some food for thought there. What if a society developed so far and forgot their origins, only to discover them later?

Good Morning …Processes Must Be Improved

Robert has been assigned to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, to mine methane. Much of the operation is done by robots and a human is needed to fix minor break downs and such. The resident built-in AI is TCI12, or Tessy. Things start off well enough but then little by little they fall apart.

This was a fun piece of scifi. While it’s a bit of a classic plot set up, I still enjoyed seeing how the author played with it. There’s some miscommunication with Earth about shipments, supplies, and the state of the miningbots on Titan. As Robert sees mangled messages congratulating other mining colonies, he both redoubles his efforts and becomes more and more pessimistic.

Meanwhile, Tessy does it’s ‘best’ to keep Robert on schedule, prodding him with daily reminders of the shipping quota and how many bots are down. On the surface, Tessy seems quite helpful and organized. Can an AI have ulterior motives? Or a (twisted) sense of humor?

I liked that Robert comments a few times about how it’s a tough assignment, being the only human on Titan for so many weeks/months at a time, how important it is to stay busy in order to stay mentally balanced. This is a good question for the story, not just for humans, but for any sentient being stuck on Titan with minimal socializing for any significant length of time.

I liked the ending because it speaks of further mischievousness. I hope when us humans start using AI for stuff in general, folks go back to the ‘Perreault classics’ and build in safety features that prevent and/or recognize questionable behavior in AIs at an early stage. This tale is a worthy read, and would make a good lunchbreak story.

I received a free copy of this audiobook from the author.

Narration:  For The Greatest Host, Christopher M. Allport did a great job with this short story. As the voice of Ilrod, he was excellent at portraying the Mist’s emotions, first at the loss of the planet and fellow Mists, and later at the wonder of discovering such a compatible host. For Circle Is Closed, Christopher M. Allport tossed in some real ship sounds for when the ship AI is answering questions or announcing something. Each character was distinct and the the female voices were realistic. He also performed an old lady and a little girl with success. For Progeny, Christopher M. Allport did a good job narrating this story as well. His female voices were believable and his story-telling style was straight forward, letting me sink into the tale without being hung up on vocal theatrics. For Good Morning… Processes Must Be Improved, Christopher M. Allport gave a good performance. He made transmissions sound like transmissions with radio noises and such. I liked his helpful, calm voice for Tessy. He also did a great job with Robert’s voice, showing how Robert was somewhat enthusiastic about his assignment at the beginning and how little by little, that changed over the course of the story.

What I Liked: For The Greatest HostThe Mists and their quest to find a symbiotic host; Ilrod’s viewpoint; the way the new host is described gave me a chuckle; the final lines. For Circle Is Closed: Humanity misses it’s home planet; the ship AI; the surprise found on Earth; great narration. For Progeny: The 4 laws of conformity; Helen’s quest for more info; what Helen discovers; how the characters react to it. For Good Morning… Processes Must Be Improved: The cover art; a classic plot set up redone well; Tessy is just so logical and sounds so sincere; Robert’s character arc for the story; how things end – with the hint of a new beginning for some other miner. 

What I Disliked: Nothing – this is a great collection of short SF fiction!

Women Destroy Science Fiction!: Lightspeed Magazine Special Issue edited by Christie Yant

YantWomenDestroyScienceFictionLightspeedMagazineWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrators: Cassandra Campbell, Gabrielle de Cuir, Harlan Ellison, Grover Gardner, Jamye Grant, Susan Hanfield, Jonathan L. Howard, John Allen Nelson, Bahni Turpin, Stefan Rudnicki, Molly Underwood, and Judy Young

Publisher: Skyboat Media Inc. (2015)

Length: 15 hours 11 minutes

Editor’s Page   Lightspeed Magazine’s Page

Over the past few years, there has been a series of ‘XXXXX Destroy Science Fiction’ anthologies, but this is the first one I have read. While the title may smack of too much ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar’, the anthology was quite balanced with characters of all genders, action and contemplation, mystery and exploration, happy endings and not-so happy endings. Most of the stories had some real meat on them, including several of the flash fiction tales, giving me something to chat about over tea. Some were humorous and some required some thoughtful contemplation afterwards. Over all, it’s an excellent science fiction anthology.

Contained in this audiobook are 11 original short stories, 4 short story reprints, 1 novella, and 15 flash fiction tales. If you pick up the text version, you also get 7 non-fiction pieces, 28 personal essays, and 15 author spotlights. Authors for stories in this audiobook include Charlie Jane Anders, Eleanor Arnason, Elizabeth Porter Birdsall, Heather Clitheroe, Tina Connolly, Katherine Crighton, Ellen Denham. Tananarive Due, Rhonda Eikamp, Amal El-Mohtar, Emily Fox, Maria Dahvana Headley, Cathy Humble, N. K. Jemisin, Marina J. Lostetter, Seanan McGuire Maureen F. McHugh, Kris Millering, Maria Romasco Moore, Samantha Murray, K. C. Norton, Anaid Perez, Sarah Pinsker, Rhiannon Rasmussen, Holly Schofield, Effie Seiberg, Gabriella Stalker, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Vanessa Torline, Carrie Vaughn, and Kim Winternheimer.

Below are the 11 original stories.

Each to Each by Seanan McGuire

The Navy has modified whole submarine corps of women into ‘mermaids’ to explore and claim the ocean floor for bubble cities and resources. The main character finds something in the deep that she didn’t expect. The narrator did a great job with the elongated vowels and such (sounding like in between ocean animal and human) and keeping each female character distinct. This was my favorite story of the whole book and a great way to start the anthology off. 6/5

A Word Shaped Like Bones by Kris Millering

Maurine is an angry artist in space. Her only ‘companion’ is a dead man in the corner. Rather eerie but interesting. Good narration – kept the eerie quality to it. 4/5

Cuts Both Ways by Heather Clitheroe

Spencer is a memory recall specialist. He floats through his memories, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Held in high regard for the work he does but it messes with his personal life. Was OK. Didn’t hold my attention like the first 2. Narration good. 3/5

Walking Awake by N.K. Jemisin

Sadie is a caretaker, helping raise the kids until they are old enough for the Masters to inhabit. Henri, one of her young charges, has been chosen. Abrupt ending. Don’t know if Sadie was successful or just nuts. Narration good tho Sadie sounded a lot younger than 40 years old. 4/5

The Case of the Passionless Bees by Rhonda Eikamp

A Gearlock Holmes & Watson story. There is murder at Gearlock’s mansion and the robotic amalgam Mrs. Hudson is in custody for the murder. Fun piece. Steampunky. Good stiff upper lip narration. 5/5

In the Image of Man by Gabriella Stalker

Set in Houston, TX, Wendell & his parents live in a mall. Big Box stores, and their advertising, dominate Wendell’s life, including church and living quarters. Teen loans are the norm. Very interesting piece on materialism and debt. Narration very good with a light Western twang. 5/5

The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick by Charlie Jane Anders

Roger and Mary broke up. Mary’s friend Stacia convinces her to ask for Roger’s memories of the beginning of their relationship when things were on a high note. Interesting piece. Good  narration. 4/5

Dim Sun by Maria Dahvana Headley

Set in a far future where the Moon is colonized, Bert, a restaurant critic, has told the secret of the dim sun restaurant. Now it’s crowded. Rodney and Bert are having a lunch there when Harriet, Bert’s ex-wife and a powerful politician, joins them. It was a very fun piece – creative dishes. Great narration. 5/5

The Lonely Sea in the Sky by Amal El-Mohtar

Laila is encouraged to talk to the psychologist. She’s an interplanetary geoscientist. She has an ism – addicted to diamonds or the idea of diamonds. This tale explores various stories about diamonds as part of Laila’s fascination. Interesting piece but kind of broken up, not clear in places. Narrated by several people. At least 1 line repeated. The volumes varies, but mostly much quieter than the rest of the book. Main narrator does great with emotions. 3/5

A Burglary, Addressed By a Young Lady by Elizabeth Porter Birdsall

Genevieve’s a thief. She makes her debut burglary and runs into another thief, Catherine. They bond over the difficulties of breaking into the Marquis’s place. Some cool tech. Love the proper British accent and social niceties. 4/5

Canth by K.C. Norton

The Canth is an underwater vessel, part animal, powered by a perpetual motion machine. Capt. Pierce has lost the Canth but pursues her in a ship, the Jeronimo, captained by Rios. Portugues flavor to the story. Cod in every meal. Very interesting story. Narration was good, especially with the Portuguese  words. 5/5

Below are the reprinted stories, including the 1 novella. 

Like Daughter by Tananarive Due

Paige looks after Denise (Neecy) as much a s she can. She often reflects on their childhood and how things were different between them. Now Denise needs her to take her 6 year old daughter. Heavy story. Well done. Good narration. 5/5.

The Great Loneliness by Maria Romasco Moore

A slow apocalypse happened. Now clones of one flavor or another live out their lives in the few pockets of habitable space on Earth. Various groups have sent probes and manned space missions over the years into space searching for another habitable planet. I really like the imagery that was every where in this story- the underwater museum, the main character’s plant-like daughter Verdant, the human’s Eyes, Brain, etc. walking around independently. The narration was great, even a little song. 5/5

Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)

Mogadit has discovered a little one, Lililu, and his teen hormones all at once. Strange, enthralling. Sometimes felt like I was watching animals mating. Stefan Rudnicki narrates and he does it excellently. 4/5

Knapsack Poems by Eleanor Arnason

Strange story. Main character seems to have more than 1 entity and this is the norm. The main character has a scout and a poet and such. It finds a child of some sorts and carries it along falling in love with it. The entities can be more than one gender, but not necessarily so. I don’t get all of it. Rudnicki narrates, doing a good job. 3/5

The Cost to Be Wise by Maureen F. McHugh (novella)

Scarline is a colony on a little populated world. Not much tech. Dogs as sheep – for food. An outworlder, Veranique, comes to visit along with her Professor Ian. Janna, who is an unwed teen of the colony, is fascinated with plastic. Scaffalos is a great clan that visits Scarline for trade, though sometimes they just take what they want. Travesty befalls the colony. Interesting story. A thoughtful, perhaps harsh, ending. Well narrated. 5/5

Below are the 15 original flash fiction stories. 

Salvage by Carrie Vaughn

A spooky ghost ship story with a happy ending.

A Guide to Grief by Emily Fox

Sad story.

See DANGEROUS EARTH-POSSIBLES! by Tina Connolly

Narrator sounds drunk, which isn’t necessarily bad for this story.

A Debt Repaid by Marina J. Lostetter

The 2-headed monster has dual addiction – gambling & drink.

The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced by Sarah Pinsker

Those that suffer from accidental time travel can hang out in an asylum. There’s jello.

#TrainFightTuesday by Vanessa Torline

Fun tail told through tweets. Super heroes/villains. Cute noises to denote switching between tweeters.

The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 by Rhiannon Rasmussen

A beautiful story of interstellar kamikazes come home. This was my favorite on the Flash Fiction.

Emoticon by Anaid Perez

:-$

The Mouths by Ellen Denham

Cracker obsessed aliens with only 1 orifice.

M1A by Kim Winternheimer

M1A is her clone there to give her parts as she needs. They grow up as sisters, but she is always sick while her clone is healthy. Poignant story.

Standard Deviant by Holly Schofield

A punkass homeless lass is given the opportunity to become an intergalactic ambassador. Fun story.

Getting on in Years by Cathy Humble

Immortal 800 year old man tired of hiding it. Interesting. Ending up to interpretation.

Ro-Sham-Bot by Effie Seiberg

Robot wants to play Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Everything That Has Already Been Said by Samantha Murray

An odd duck of a story.

The Lies We Tell Our Children by Katherine Crighton

She tells her daughters about space and what that means. They become sad. Very nice sadly sweet story.

I received a copy of this audiobook at no cost from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Nearly all of the narration was well done for this anthology. There was one story with more than 1 narrator and it definitely sounded like the narrators were in different studios, not recorded at the same time. However, the  majority of the narration was excellent. I especially like seeing Stefan Rudnicki’s abilities tested in the James Tiptree story.  

What I Liked: Such a variety of SF – horror, steampunk, time travel, romance, exploration, etc.; it was great to have so many narrators for this anthology, which helped keep each story distinct;  beautiful  cover art.

What I Disliked: The title does make me chuckle a little.

What Others Think:

NPR

Tangent

Adventures in SciFi Publishing

Insanity Tales II, The Sense of Fear, an anthology

PhillipsInsanityTalesIIWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Fred Wolinsky

Publisher: The Storyside Press (2016)

Length: 7 hours 38 minutes

Six writers have come together with 11 tales in this anthology. Foreword is by Joe McKinney. Contributing authors are: David Daniel, Ursula Wong, Dale T. Phillips, Stacy Longo, Rob Smales, and Vlad V.

This collection ranges from the humorous to the vengeful to the brutal to the calculated deadly. There’s vomiting demons, cheating spouses, serial killings, back-room justice, despair and sadness, innocent madness, and a post-apocalyptic deadly obstacle course. I really enjoyed the first Insanity Tales anthology but I think this one is a bit more diverse. My three favorites from this collection were Hooks, Spirit in the Stone, and The Devil’s in the Details, though Rape Kit deserves a worthy mention.

Snow Day by David Daniel

Ed’s at a bar on a Thursday night about to head home. Normally he stays overnight in the city on Thursdays so he can get an early start at work on Friday and be home early for a long weekend. But it looks like snow is in the air and folks are hoping for a snow day. Liam, the bar tender, brings up the age-old question of whether size matters or not. Ed tells Liam a story about his grade school days: Susan liked to collect baseball cards –the more the better. Each individual one doesn’t matter. The size of her collection was what mattered to her. This story started off pretty innocently, letting me get all cozy within the telling, leading me by the hand down some dark alley of infidelity, handguns, and fancy lingerie. This was a good start to the anthology, getting the audience warmed up. And, yes, I did indeed like the running cliche of ‘size matters…. or not’ throughout the story. 5/5

The Book of Shadows by Rob Smales

James had his eyes operated on in his teen years, returning his sight. Now he lives out in the wilderness. A reporter, Carl, has tracked him down and wants a story about the serial killings. At first, James refuses to chat with him but Carl makes a strong argument for how he’ll get his story one way or the other. So James tells him his tale of how it all started, how he learned to interpret the shadows, and how it all went horribly wrong. Since the tale is told from the standpoint of the main character, I never questioned whether or not he was telling the truth about the shadows and his level of involvement in the deaths. Then we get to the ending and I have to wonder. James’s disturbed emotions over the foreshadowing shadows was quite clear and his horror, even terror at times, and eventual despair comes through clearly. 4/5

Voices by Dale T. Phillips

The story starts off with Chase Davis and his friend Marty at Rebecca’s graveside. Marty’s wife, Rebecca, was having an affair with Chase, who had wanted to call it off due to boredom but Rebecca was clingy. Marty misses her terribly and Chase is determined to keep his little secret so as not to devastate his best friend further. Yet Marty is certain he can find a way to communicate with the dead. All through this story I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Perhaps Marty knew about the affair all along or found out shortly after the funeral and now he wants to pull an elaborate, demented joke on Chase. However, there never is another shoe to drop. The story had a strong set up and then a whirlwind ending. In fact, I felt the ending was rather abrupt. 3/5

Nobody Ever Listens to Eddie by Stacey Longo

Eddie believes he has been psychic since he was a kid – his sister’s bike accident, his dad’s car, vomiting on the priest, that toad. So today is a big festive day and he has the worst feeling ever about the day. However, he’s reluctant to tell anyone about it. His sister Bev always finds a logical way to explain away his bad feeling. His wife Norma left him because of it as well. Will Eddie listen to his feelings today or finally set aside that side of him and try to have a normal day at the festivities? This was a fun, short piece. 4/5

Spirit in the Stone by Ursula Wong

This story flashes back and forth between the present (she’s spreading Joe’s ashes in the desert) and their past few years together. She’s always been a bit sad, but one day she meets Joe in a diner and they hit it off. He likes having someone to take care of and she likes being taken care of. Unfortunately, Joe gets sick. During the last days of his life he goes a little nuts and accuses her of poisoning him, of killing his 3rd grade teacher, etc. As she’s spreading his ashes, she finds some petroglyphs. She vaguely recalls a story that said spirits return to the rocks once their body passes. I really enjoyed this one. A bit mystical and yet everything can be explained by human nature. 5/5

Rape Kit by David Daniel

On a small campus in Pennsylvania, a 65 year old campus cop coordinates with his newest recruit, Roland, in dealing with the accusation of rape. They’ve taken care of all the immediate stuff and are waiting for the state police to show up. The old cop starts telling Roland stories of how such things were handled in the past prior to rape kits and forensic evidence. Plenty of food for thought in this one while dealing with a tough subject. 5/5

The Perfect Game by Rob Smales

Jimmy has been eagerly waiting for Joe and Charlie to return from their adventures in England. Joe shows up but he doesn’t look too good. Charlie still at Logan airport, waiting to be claimed by a family member. Joe tells Jimmy the lengthy story about a game of darts while they were in England and how it all went wrong. The dart game part took up the bulk of the story and I found it a bit boring. The surprise ending was a nice twist. 3.5/5

Hooks by Dale T. Phillips

Mr. Burrows lost his hands to an IED and now he has hooks. He feels they set him apart from society and he hates it. Even when people are kind, like giving him a free breakfast or such, he hates that too. One day he meets a nice lady and they spend hours talking before he reveals his hooks. She still likes him but is busy with school for a few weeks. He thinks she’s just letting him down easy. The story takes a much darker turn, showing how important (and perhaps deadly) it can be to self-identify as a predator instead of prey. I loved this one. It shined an eerie light on how disabled veterans are treated, even by well meaning folks, and a light on what those veterans might think of such pity. 5/5

The Devil’s in the Details by Stacey Longo

Tiffany is having a sleep-over at her house for her birthday. She’s invited the twins (Gretchen and Gerda), Allison (grammatical queen), and Julie. Tiffany received a Ouija board for her birthday and of course the girls have to try it out. Unfortunately, one of them makes the mistake of jokingly inviting a spirit to possess her body. Things change for her after that; some good, some bad. This one was quite fun and a bit light-hearted compared to the rest of the collection. It was cute and fun. I can see it as a start to a YA urban fantasy series. 5/5

Fly Away by Ursula Wong

Danny does his best to explain to his girlfriend Alice about his older sister Vega. She’s different and has spent the last several years at the Hampstead Home. Vega’s old room is full of ceramic birds, most in crazy colors. Now Vega is due to return home and Danny wants to meet her alone and introduce Alice a little later. But is reconnecting with Vega on the isolated farm really the best choice for Danny? This story started off strong. I like all the creepy bird imagery. The ending is a little abrupt and I could see it coming from the beginning. 4/5

Float by Vlad V.

This is a nitty, gritty, grimy, and sometimes slimy story. Set in the post-apocalyptic ruins of a large city (New Carthage), there’s still crime lords. Al Brunichelli wants his sister Adelina to at least marry an equal if not a little higher, perhaps allying his own crime organization with rival gang. Alas, Adelina has her eyes (and other body parts) set on Hector. He’s a low-level runner, and his skin isn’t white enough for Al. But they strike a deal. The biggest holiday of the year is coming up and that means the deadly float race is nearly upon them as well. Hector wants a float, and if he wins, then he gets Adelina. The float race is kind of like the thunderdome on big rubber water floats. There’s dirty tricks right, left, and center, and Hector has to figure a way through or under or over all of them. The competition is fierce and Al just might have added some extra dangers for Hector. I started off really liking this and it ended OK. I like the gritty feel to it and the dangerous float ride. However, there is only 1 woman and she is a prize to be won and she’s OK with that (a rather tired cliche). 4/5

I received a copy of this book at no cost (from the narrator) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration:  Fred Wolinsky did a really good job with this collection. In Spirit in the Stone, Wolinsky does a great job narrating the entire thing in a feminine voice. In Snow Day, Wolinsky had a little trouble with Liam’s Irish accent, but that’s my only negative comment on the narration. In The Devil’s in the Details, Wolinsky using special demon voice (gravelly) when the demon speaks and then he gave the voice a hollow echo for when the demon was speaking to his host in her own head.

What I Liked: Quite a variety of spooking stories; some tougher subjects are brought up in this anthology; a few are lighter to balance the heavier stories; horror can also be a part of back-room justice or a naughty prank.

What I Disliked: A few stories ended abruptly; one story treated the only female character as a tired cliche.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

LiuThePaperMenagerieAndOtherStoriesWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrators: Corey Brill, Joy Osmanski

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 15 hours 41 minutes

Author’s Page

This is my first adventure in Ken Liu’s works and it does not disappoint! Liu really shows off his diversity in this collection. From historical fiction to fantasy to science fiction to murder mystery to contemporary literature – Liu does it all well.

Below is my summary and thoughts on each story. I do my best to avoid spoilers. Most of the stories have a pretty serious ending, though there are few that use humor here and there. This is a thought provoking collection of stories. Several cultures are represented and many of the stories carry culture clash themes.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

Evan and his wife Ming Ping discover an atomic particle that lets humans view a snapshot of history. As their discovery is put into use, lots and lots of questions are raised. The initial focus is given to an atrocity carried out by a Japanese experimental science group (Unit 731) during WWII. This story was chilling and thought provoking. Should the past be laid to rest so that future generations can move forward? Or should we bear witness to every atrocity of the past, keeping them close in memory? 5/5

“Mono No Aware”

Hiroto lives on a space ship, the Hopeful. The story moves back and forth in time as our main character has flash backs to his time as a kid. His family packed up and went with all their neighbors to a tent city awaiting to board a space ship. However, not enough were available. Yet kid Hiroto gets a seat on an American space ship that launches in time to avoid the asteroids that slam into Earth. His past weighs heavily on him as he makes decisions in the present. While this story was interesting, it didn’t hit me as hard as several of the others. 4/5

“The Waves”

Earth has become polluted and the Sea Foam carries humanity outward to another habitable planet. In Earth’s last transmission to the ship, they send the specs on how to build a microscopic virus that allows one to become immortal. The ship occupants decide to let each person decide for themselves. However, because of how things are on the ship, for every immortal, there must be someone who chooses to age and die. Since the ship is traveling for generations, this was common sense. Maggie is the main character we follow through the story. When Sea Foam does arrive at their destination, there’s a surprise waiting for them and folks have yet another choice to make. There were several creation myths woven into the story quite cleverly, bringing up the question of whether they could be true. 5/5

“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”

This story explores the vast ways the peoples of the universe write and read books. Some use a proboscis to both write and read books, like a record player. Some do so through scents and flavors. Another species are large strung out wisps that float through the universe reading planets and black holes. There’s a few others, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. This story was a big info dump, but a very interesting info dump, like an encyclopedia entry. I really enjoyed this one! 5/5

“All the Flavors”

Set in the gold rush era of 1860s in Idaho, Lily Seaver and her dad Jack make friends with the local Chinamen. Lao Guan (or Logan to his American friends) tells Lily Chinese stories of Guan Yu, a glorified or perhaps mystical warrior of old. However, the Chinamen butt heads with some locals, Obie and Crick. Eventually, Obie brings charges against Logan. I really thought I would enjoy this story more, as I typically like Old West tales. I found the pace slow and my mind kept wandering.  3/5

“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”

The litigator Tian is considered lazy but when a widow comes to him for aid, he stands up for her at the local court. He succeeds only to have the widow come to him again for assistance on another matter. The entire time he chats away with the Monkey King in his head. The story starts off a little comical as Tian was dreaming of enjoying a big feast with the Monkey King. Then the story gets serious and then it gets a little brutal. Still, I liked it. Tian has some idea of what his good deed will cost him and even though he has a quick tongue and a quicker wit, he doesn’t make it out of this story unscathed. 5/5

“The Paper Menagerie” 

Jack’s mom is a mail order Chinese bride and his dad is American. Jack has to muddle through growing up with all the comments from neighbors and friends about mail order brides. His mom is a paper artist, making him origami animals to play with. As a small kid, he adores these animals. But as he ages, the insults start getting to him. He packs away his animals and demands real toys. He wants American meals and for his mom to speak good English. He starts ignoring her and is ashamed of her and doesn’t want to look anything like her. The story was rather sad but poignant. I think anyone who has struggled with cultural identity can relate to this story, no matter what your heritage is. 5/5

“State Change”

Rina was born with an ice cube for a soul. Her college friend Amy has a pack of cigarettes for a soul. Each character has their soul manifested as an object that must be protected. Rina lives in constant fear that her cube will melt and her soul will be no more and her heart will cease to beat. Going out for anything requires a thermos and a freezer at the destination, which limits her socializing. It was a fun little piece though a bit slow moving.  4/5

“The Perfect Match”

The AI Tilly and the Centillian Corporation control info. They are in nearly everyone’s house via their electronics, monitoring all their wants and needs. Tilly is helpful in making suggestions and in offering up directions and coupons and even playing match maker. However, a small group of people (including Jenny), believe this kind of data gathering to be wrong. Tilly is so pervasive in Sai’s life, he no longer knows if what he wants is truly what he wants. This story held my attention throughout and was a bit relevant to today’s arguments on government monitoring of phone and internet. 5/5

“Good Hunting”

Liang and his father are demon hunters and they start this story off hot on the trail of two hulijing. Yan and her mother can shape shift into foxes. Liang corners Yan but then lets her go, continuing to meet in secret a few times a year. As the railroad progresses into their area, magic begins to fade out. Liang and Yan each have to find a way to reshape themselves or fade away. The story was a bit haunting, a little sad, but with hope at the end. 5/5

“Literomancer”

Lilly Dyer is going to school in Taiwan during the Communist craze. She and her dad are from Texas but she’s constantly teased at school for her Chinese lunches. One day she meets Mr. Kan and his adopted grandson Teddy. Mr. Kan has a bit of magic – literomancy – which means he can tell fortunes from words looking at the hidden meanings in the characters. Lilly inadvertently gets Mr. Kan and teddy into trouble when she shares some innocent stories with her parents over dinner. I did not see that ending coming! It was a sweet story about building friendships despite vast cultural differences and then it ended so harshly. 4/5

“Simulacrum”

This story is told in 3 voices, like written letters. Paul and Erin were traveling a lot for work but then had Anna Larimore, their accident baby. When Anna is a teen, she catches her dad at home having sex with his 4 simulacrum of his past infidelities. Paul helped create the simulacrum and he didn’t see any difference between them and other virtual tech. Anna becomes estranged from him and eventually her mother leaves her a message about how one weak moment shouldn’t define a person for the entirety of their life. It was an interesting story but a bit short. I felt more could have been done with the simulacrum and how their wide-spread use has affected society. 3/5

“The Regular”

The Watcher has killed yet another prostitute in the Boston area. This time, the prostitute’s mom, Sarah Ding, hires PI Ruth Law to find the killer. Ruth used to be law enforcement, but then tragedy struck and she went into the private sector. She has various enhancements, as many folks do in the story. Some strengthen her grip or give her muscles speed. She also has a regulator, which controls her adrenaline spikes and suppresses her sorrow. This was a pretty good murder mystery. Additionally, I like all the tech. I ached for Ruth and her loss and her inability to cope, relying heavily on her regulator to block out emotions. 5/5

“An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”

This tale starts off talking about aliens who can join together, experiencing each other’s dreams, fears, hopes, memories, feelings, etc., but when they separate, they are basically copies of one another. The story is a bit rambly, kind of broken up, and makes large leaps. There is this bit about a couple and their child, but it doesn’t really anchor the story. There’s lots of talk about what is love and such. This tale didn’t really work for me. 2/5

“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”

In this little bit of alternate history, a great tunnel was built in the early 1900s connecting US pacific coast with Japan and China. The story follows a now old, retired tunnel worker Charlie, and Betty, an American woman with grown children (who are off doing their thing). The story flashes back and forth between their blossoming relationship and his memories of digging the tunnel. He has nightmares sometimes about the things he had to do while building the great tunnel. This story made me think of some of the early construction in the US, such as the Hoover dam and some of the big New York buildings. There’s a human cost to such success.  5/5

I received a copy at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration:  Corey Brill did a fine job with all the Japanese words and accents. For some stories, only a few character voices were required but each was distinct. Joy Osmanski also did a nice job. When there were only a few character voices required, I could easily tell the difference between them. Although when singing the Irish wake song, her voice lacked masculinity (in “All the Flavors”). for “Simulacrum”, the two narrators tag teamed it, which was well done.

What I Liked: A variety of genres represented in the collection; most of heady and provoke deeper questions; I loved the various cultures represented; cultural identity and culture clash are themes in several of the stories; great cover.

What I Disliked: There was one story was too rambly for me to enjoy.

What Others Think:

The Biblio Sanctum

SF Signal

The Speculative Herald

SciFi Now

Strange Currencies

Buzzy Mag

Speculative Book Review

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