Book Review – The Cauldron by Sirren Rossi

This was a departure from my normal reading fare, which is kind of odd if I stop to think about it. The Cauldron is billed as sci-fi erotica, erotic sci-fi, and sci-fi romance. All good-hearted people love sci-fi and most people can dig on erotica when the mood strikes. Yet, somehow or another this was a story I wouldn’t have sought out. But you meet other authors on Twitter, someone asks nicely for a review, and, well, the rest is history.

Long story short: I really enjoyed this story.

Now, for those of you who don’t think you can intertwine erotica and sci-fi, I’d suggest a little-known book called Altered Carbon, which contains more sex than the average Game of Thrones episode and without the ritual beheading at the end. Sex and sci-fi can play nice with each other if the author has a solid handle on both genres and understands how to intertwine them for the best effect. That doesn’t necessarily mean busting out the R-4310 Orgasmatron, either. It means linking science fiction – the best examples of which are about people not tools – and erotica – again, people not tools. Not saying there’s no room for the R-4310 Orgasmatron in erotic sci-fi, just that the story shouldn’t be solely about advanced sex technology.

So, enter Sirren Rossi, an author who gets that good stories, no matter the genre, always come down to people. And the people in this case largely revolve around one Commander Scirocco Piers who starts the story doing a little sex therapy for a crewmate and ends up showing a softer side of herself spending time with a friend. After fighting off an alien ship with all the gusto of a Klingon yelling, “Perhaps today is a good day to die.”

Ostensibly, The Cauldron is part one of a series and the novella does a good job of leaving us wanting more. It wraps up its own plotline nicely, but teases that’s there’s much more to the story than we’ve seen so far. One would hope Rossi is working on a sequel that will answer some of the underlying questions left behind as well as provide another opportunity to let Commander Scirocco spread her wings and fly a little further into the manic wonderland The Cauldron is setting up.

As an added bonus, like all good sci-fi, this one comes with detailed pictures of the ships involved. It’s like a bit of sex, a lot of action, and some cool nerding out to spaceship porn at the end. Everything you really need in one tight, taut, story about aliens, sex, and interstellar naval battles.

It is the 24th century. Deep in unexplored space lays the uncharted star system GS-104. The Terran Alliance starship ‘Lightning’ – a long range scout vessel – is tasked with surveying this far-flung system for potential colonization. The ‘Lightning’s’ Chief Intelligence Officer – Commander Scirocco Piers – part spy, part officer, and part sex therapist – expects another routine mission.

What she does not expect is that the Lightning will encounter an alien ship from a rival galactic empire – and that the ship will break a long-standing treaty and attack – stealing secrets vital to Terran security across known space.

Now, Scirocco is called upon to use her many and varied skills to attempt to retrieve the stolen secrets and prevent the enemy from getting away with them and putting the whole of the Terran Alliance at risk – all without starting a war.

But with her captain dead and her plans falling apart, Scirocco is faced with challenge after challenge – on the alien ship, on her own ship’s bridge, and in bed – forced to test all her skills with the fate of two empires hanging in the balance.

Can she find it in her heart to be what she must be and do what must be done?

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Book Review – Echoes of Olympus Mons by Eric Malikyte

There aren’t that many sci-fi horror stories that I’m aware of. Someone please correct me one what I’m missing because I really enjoy the genre. On the movie end, I can think of Event Horizon, the original Alien (Aliens, great as it was, was more action than horror) and, uh, Predator, I guess. And, let’s face it, Predator was just a badass retelling of Beowulf with an alien and guns, which is why it won the Academy Award for Best Movie Ever Made.

I’m sure there are more out there, but those are the only ones that come to mind.

Anyway, like I said, the sci-fi genre is rife with possibilities for some good horror stories, especially ones that introduce a brand new kind of bad guy. That’s why Eric Malikyte’s Echoes of Olympus Mons was such a treat. It wasn’t just that it was well-written with some suberb character development and a hefty dose of science, it was the fact that he came up with a monster that hasn’t been done before. I won’t spoil it by telling you, but it’s a genuinely unique take on sci-fi horror.

Malikyte keeps you guessing throughout the book. Even though the action is spelled out, he leaves enough wiggle room to make you wonder if what’s happening is really happening or not. He paints us solid, real characters who are far from perfect charicatures, and gives us a vision of Mars that shows a red planet that frankly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us.

If you enjoy well-written horror that doesn’t go over the top and descend into straight gore – although there is plenty of that – pick up Echoes of Olympus Mons and get ready to spend a few nights with a book you can’t put down.

olympusmons

Once they see you nowhere is safe.

Olympus One colony students Hal Leon and Akio Sato have made history. Their invention, a camera that images dark matter, has had its first successful test; but what it reveals may put human life on Mars in jeopardy. 

Hal believes that the strange animalistic silhouettes hidden in the dark matter web prove his theories. The wiry, inhuman forms appear to look to the sky at some invisible threat before they’re wiped away by a wave of nothingness that resets the dark matter web to normal, until it all repeats again—a never-ending cycle. 

That is, until something else appears in the dark matter web, and students and colonists alike start dying under mysterious circumstances. Can Hal and Akio figure out what’s causing these grisly murders, and does the dark matter camera somehow hold the key to the mystery?

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Book Review – Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

One of Orwell’s key ideas in 1984 was the notion that language shaped thought. It wasn’t an altogether outlandish idea, even if he used it in sinister and double plus ungood ways. We need words for our brains to conceptualize things and explain them to other people. Without arguing the efficacy of communication or whether the intended meaning is delivered along with the rest of the message, it’s easy to understand how the languages we use can shape the way we think. Even Abbot’s Flatland touched on this idea when one of his characters was trying to describe the concept of “up” to a group of two-dimensional beings.

As I recall, Abbot’s character got locked up for the heresy of discussing extra dimensions beyond the required two.

Language is at the heart of Paul Jessup’s Close Your Eyes – a collection of two novellas and one short story stitched together into a novel. Each bit has its own flow, but they all work together to tell one meta story.

Jessup uses language as both the crux of the story where language is a virus and he uses language like a surgeon wields a scalpel as he weaves together the tale of a ship adrift in an ocean of stars. In the course of their adventures they stumble across a particularly virulent strain of language that rends sanity in twain. It would seem that even in a world of automatons made of wax and hyper-intelligent ship’s computers, the bug that strikes people down was something no one expected: Language.

It’s a unique way of dealing with diseases. The language in question is almost like a computer virus that infects, propagates, and ultimately consumes its victim’s minds. The novel alludes to the fact that the language has already decimated entire planets.

Jessup has his own style of writing that is unique in all the books I’ve read. At times it’s punchy, direct, and almost Spartan in its usage, at other times it flows with the symmetry of poetry. As if his concept of linguistic viruses wasn’t enough, he uses language to great effect to heighten the more surreal aspects of his world.

Think of Close Your Eyes as sci-fi with a purpose. It would be easy to say the ship’s AI is reminiscent of HAL from 2001 or the linguistic virus as similar to Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but Close Your Eyes goes in different directions. Even if the idea that there is nothing new under the sun is true, that doesn’t mean existing things can’t be rearranged into new and exciting things.

All in all, a good read.

“Language is a virus. Open this book. Read the words. Feel them infect you. Identity is a disease. Flip the pages. Stay up all night. Watch it transform you. You cannot deny it. You cannot close your eyes and shut out the changes. You know you want to. You really want to. But it’s too late. You can’t.

Critically acclaimed author of weird fiction Paul Jessup sends puppets to speak and fight for their masters. Welcome to a far future universe that stretches the imagination to breaking, where a ragtag crew of post-human scavengers rage and love on a small ship in the outer reaches of space, and moon-sized asylums trap the unwary in a labyrinth of experimentation in both identity and sanity.

Welcome to Close Your Eyes, a mind expanding surrealistic space opera that not only includes the out-of-print classic Open Your Eyes, but takes it to whole new level in a much awaited sequel.

Go ahead. Pick it up. Read it. Let it infect you.”

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Book Review – A Stitch In Time by Senan Gil Senan

I like story compilations. Some people hate short story collections for various reasons, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Short stories are a great way for authors to flex their creative muscles and readers get a vehicle to see what an author is capable of. Senan Gil Senan’s newest compilation follows on the heels of Beyond The Pale and The Fifth Seed, both excellent books in their own right, but with A Stitch In Time, Senan has delved headfirst into the magical mysteries of time.

Rather than take the easy way out and wax philosophical about what happens when you change the past or getting into the weeds of the multiverse, he takes the opportunity to examine how time can create and change reality like the loom of a mad-genius weaver. There are six stories in this collection and all of them play with time in some brilliant ways. From the curious case of a man who may or may not be mad to the dark choices that lead an officer to play with time to cover up her mistakes, A Stitch In Time takes you for a ride.

That ride isn’t always easy, but the destination is worth getting to.

Six thought-provoking stories from six different genres bound by one principle – Time.

TIMELESS:
This is a heartfelt story of a child that is left feeling disassociated from life following the physical impact of an explosion and the resultant emotional trauma from the death of his mother. The story of his life unfolds as he recounts it during his final timeless moment, one of the many that befall him, causing the world around him to slow to a standstill. All these timeless moments seem to be inextricably linked in his life and anchored to one seminal event. That being the moment he first falls in love with a soul mate that makes him feel included and at peace with this heartless world which he has always despised.

CLOCKS SLAY TIME: 
A bizarre corruption in his consciousness leaves a man experiencing his life in a non-sequential jumbled order. Despite not being able to remember his name or even where he lives, he manages to get by living only in the moment. Until he encounters a particular girl who by just being in her company, allows him to make sense of his confused existence. This is a love story set against a background of distorted time. The non-sequential order of the chapter numbers reflects this, although this story can also be re-read by following the 11 chapters in sequential number order. It then becomes a completely different story; it is a matter of perspective.EPSILON:
An exorcist encounters a man of whom it is unclear whether he is possessed or suffering from some kind of psychosis. This is a modern horror story which shows how distorted reality can be just as frightening as the depths of hell.HELLO FRIEND: 
When the world’s leading social network rolls out an artificially intelligent App aimed at engaging the lonelier and more socially challenged people in society, strange results enfold. Is this just a clever program or has the artificially intelligent computer program become sentient and is directing events in their lives?
This tale tells the story of a disparate set of characters who without knowledge of each other, become entwined in each other’s lives, like pawns being moved by a chess-master.HOLD THE BRIDGE: 
A female officer is unexpectedly awakened from deep stasis, two and a half years early on a long distance space voyage. She is joined by another crewman who is also oblivious to the reason for their premature awakening. They can return to stasis sleep but decide instead to investigate first, searching for any anomalies or problems that might need their direct intervention. Events induce a sense of paranoia when it becomes evident that they are not alone and an alien entity might be onboard and impersonating both of them. As the senior officer, it is imperative that she secures and holds the Command Bridge of the vessel against all odds.

THE FALL AND RISE OF THE EL: 
The EL is an advanced race of timeless spiritual light beings that think and act collectively and have been assigned a protective role over a particular solar system. They must initiate and oversee the restoration of a frozen planet which once supported much life. Once its ice has retreated, their stewardship requires many of their collective to descend substantially in vibration and take up mortal physicality in order to carry out their duty on the dense planet below. However, divisions in their unity and purpose arise after they opt to manipulate the genetics of one particular species in order to turn them into a helper race of infertile automatons to which they can delegate much of their menial tasks. The heavy density of this world causes the EL many difficulties, one of which is a growing sense of individuality which threatens their collective consciousness. This individuality also threatens to infect the helper race who have been infused with DNA from the EL.

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Urban Fantasy

Back when my son was still wildly into dinosaurs, I found a book called Dinopix by Teruhisha Tajima. It was a bunch of photo edits that posited what the world would be like if dinosaurs had lived into the current day. It didn’t concern itself with the struggles early humans would have had to deal with when encountering a hungry T. rex or a pack of Deinonychus, nor did it deal with what evolution would have done with those creatures over the past 65 million year. Dinopix dropped dinosaurs, as they were before they went extinct, straight into the modern world.

Please clean up after your diplodocus. Carry a very large bag and a shovel.

The result was brilliant and enchanting. Although, as I recall, my son was less than impressed with it than he was with Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, which melded two kiddo favorites into a fun little adventure complete with pronunciation guide for those of us reading aloud who had forgotten how to pronounce Giganotosaurus.

Both books did a fantastic job with melding the real world with the fantasy world that all kids and writers seem to inhabit. That’s the beauty of looking at the world through different eyes and rather than seeing a normal checkout counter, wondering what crazy thing has happened or will happen there. Maybe the person manning the cash register is a werewolf just trying to make ends meet. Lycanthropy, after all, doesn’t pay very well.

This kind of melding of the magical and the mundane is often referred to as Urban Fantasy, but I’d argue it could also easily fall into the magical realism world. Both deal with the idea of magical or extraordinary events happening in a predominantly realistic world. Werewolves running cash registers or vampires running night clubs. Or even a rogue Valkyrie trying to kick off Ragnarok. The differences are pretty trivial, but magical realism has been a thing in Latino literature for a very long time while the rest of us were only made aware of it when Narcos premiered on Netflix.

I recently read where someone said urban fantasy – as a genre – was for lazy writers. The argument was that urban fantasy was essentially fantasy without all the world building and was, therefore, easier to deal with than real fantasy.

In case you’re wondering, this is the gist of this post. I just felt like rambling on about dinosaurs, pirates, urban fantasy, and magical realism.

As an essentially urban fantasy writer, I bristled at that admonition. I have no beef with fantasy, I’ve even dabbled with it a bit, even though Greetings From Sunny Aluna would probably be better classified as wuxia than traditional fantasy. If we’re going to insist on classifying everything, that is.

So, are urban fantasy writers lazier than traditional fantasy writers? I’d have to argue no. Even though urban fantasy takes place in a largely realistic world, snapping robot dinosaurs into it takes a lot more thinking. In a traditional fantasy world, seeing a dragon isn’t that far out of the ordinary. It’s fantasy; it’s supposed to have dragons.

Probably not run by actual dragons.

But the real world isn’t supposed to have dragons wandering around running hot dog stands or selling drugs on street corners. Making that kind of thing work takes finagling or it feels fake. Which means, the world that dragon inhabits has to be aware of at least the idea that dragons could not only be real, but they could also get a license to run a hot dog stand.

It’s that license part that requires world building inside of the real world. Twisting the mundanity of penetrating bureaucracy into something a dragon had to do means you have to build hooks into the real world that will allow things like that to happen. That’s world building.

World building is more than describing castles or various tribes running around stabbing each other. It means making the world of the book be internally consistent with itself. Or, at the very least, making it seem real enough that the reader doesn’t hit a page and think, “What the holy fuck just happened? How did we get from elves to zero point energy?”

Well, you see, elves have always been big proponents of not only zero point energy, but also cold fusion.

And, let’s not oversell the world building done in fantasy. Most of the fantasy genre sits plainly in the European Middle Ages, just with less disease and more magic. Sure, some people have done some amazing jobs with it – The Dragonriders of Pern series comes to mind – but a lot fantasy is just kings and dark wizards throwing down over land rights. Now, before you grab pitchforks and torches, yes, I know McCaffrey’s dragons are usually classified as Sci-Fi. Let’s face it, though, there are a lot of traditional fantasy elements to those books. Besides, it could be argued that sci-fi is fantasy that replaced the magic with technology and the dwarves with aliens.

Not amused.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. I enjoy sci-fi, usually more than I enjoy fantasy, but I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of fantasy stories, too.

So, is urban fantasy just fantasy for lazy writers? Hell, no. It takes a lot more effort to believably shoehorn dragons selling hot dogs into downtown Albuquerque than it does to have that same dragon snatching up damsels and swilling the blood of knights out of a very large mug.

What are you thoughts on it? Is urban fantasy for lazy writers? Do elves really have a thing for zero point energy? Is sci-fi just fantasy with technology in place of magic?

Book Review – Queens by Patrick Hodges

I reviewed book I of The Wielders of Arantha back in May. Now, a scant four months or so later, book II has dropped. I’m truly not sure how he managed to write, edit, and release such a complex story in such a short period of time, but I have it on good authority Patrick Hodges might not exactly human. It’s entirely possible he’s a reincarnation of one of the greats of the 30s, a new Walter Gibson or Lester Dent, a man who can manipulate words with the best of them.

Book I found an Earth ravaged by alien invasion. The hated Jegg had shown up and basically torn up the joint. A final, last-ditch effort by some of the few remaining humans sent a ship to a distant planet in search of something that might save the planet and drive off the Jegg. On Elystra, Maeve And Davin found more than they bargained for when they stumbled across a society where people could control the elements and armies marched with powerful magicians at their head.

That first book ended part way through the story, which was my only real complaint about it. Book II, Queens, picks up exactly where Book I ended and ups the stakes.

In addition to being a cracking good story to read, Hodges spends some time exploring the way our preconceived notions drive the way we do things. Most of Elystra cannot comprehend a woman that can wield the elements, while the women who walled themselves off from the world have difficulty imagining men who aren’t complete jerks. It’s kind of like the battle of the sexes on a global scale, except they come to the conclusion that there’s no real reason to be fighting, especially since a greater threat has arisen.

That’s another theme to the story, the idea that the things we do can have extremely long-lasting repercussions, the kind of stuff no one ever saw coming. Themes like these make for a resounding story and Hodges – originally a youth/YA author – handles the adult themes with aplomb.

All in all, an excellent read.

A cosmic game of chess is underway, and the planet Elystra is the board.

Earth pilot Maeve and her son Davin have joined the Ixtrayu, hoping to avert the destruction that their leader, Kelia, has foretold. But will Maeve’s burgeoning Wielding powers be enough to thwart the machinations of Elzor and his lightning-wielding sister, Elzaria, before everything the Ixtrayu have ever known is destroyed in Elzor’s quest for ultimate power?

Queens is Part Two in the Wielders of Arantha trilogy. If you love science fiction or fantasy, then this series will thrill and enthrall you!

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New Release Sunday

I’ll apologize ahead of time to R.L. for not getting this post up last week. I’d like to make up some story involving monkeys, time travel, and a fried egg, but the truth is, I just didn’t see it come through Facebook.

Thanks Facebook.

Anyway, allow me to present the new work by writer and all around good person, R.L. Andrew, A Lunatic’s Guide to Interplanetary Relationships. She was kind enough to provide a sample of her work, so read on and make sure to follow the buy link at the bottom of the post.

“When perpetual screw-up Shayne James is transported from Earth to another planet, she has no idea she’s the key to saving the universe. When Annu discovers this puny human on his planet, little does he know that she’s the key to the two of them defeating the enemy. He finds her irritating, annoying, and somewhat attractive! If they don’t kill each other, or get killed by an unknown force attempting to take over the universe, they might live happily ever after.”

_______SAMPLE (Enjoy!)________

Chapter 1: Crazy Like a Falling Coconut

Ardrossan, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, Earth

How did I, Shayne James, a Demi-Goddess and daughter of the Great God Ki, end up in a nut house? It’s God damned ridiculous. Literally. Ive got to get out of here. I cant do another night in this stupid place.

Shayne shook the gate; her fingers ached and rust embedded beneath her nails. “What kind of screwed up torture is this? Haven’t I suffered enough?”

She surveyed the yard for Geoffrey from Ward 3, her one true fan, believer and stalker. Where he went, hospital staff followed. Yard all clear, Shayne counted on her fingers. “How many weeks have I spent in this shit hole?”

2 or 3? Fuck. I don’t know.

The medication they’d thrust into her made time a slippery worm difficult to grasp. The morning’s pills jiggled next to her phone in Shayne’s pocket. She’d hide them with the others. The few missed days cleared her brain and the memories returned. The instant their effects wore off, Shayne realised the governmental nightmare with its hard beds, terrible food, and bad TV, interfered with her true destiny on another planet.

Shayne kicked the metal lock. Pain shot through her foot. “Shit. Crap.”

She hopped in a circle and cursed dodgy hips connected to short legs. The bastards prevented her climb up the Wistingera hedge beside the gate without assistance, and she couldn’t find anyone to hold her steady without grabbing her arse.

Cant get out the gate, cant break the fence, cant climb the hedge. I’ve tried all the doors. Which leaves what exactly?

Shayne breathed in crazy free air and ran through other options. “Oh fuck it. I can’t think of any. What to do, what to do?”

Her shoulders drooped; Shayne’s freedom remained as distant as Orion.

Even if I did escape, what then? How do I get home and back to Orion? Why can’t a wormhole just appear right here? Huh?

Frustrated with her lack of control, Shayne grabbed the top fence rail and shook. Each rattle represented wasted minutes spent there and the time taken from her future with Annu. The strive for freedom pulsed through her, it interrupted her thoughts and shoved her out of bed each morning. All to face a day filled with half baked escape concepts and pleas to release her Godly self.

Shayne moved her anger down a rung. “That nobody fucking listens to.”

Her arms ached; she relent her hold on the fence. Shayne shifted from the gate across to the hedge filling the fence and smushed into the middle of it. The faint scent of rosemary comforted her, a fresh wave of memories flooded Shayne’s mind.

Shayne wriggled her middle finger, not a scar or mark indicated its former separation.

I can’t believe I got a finger chopped off and it grew back, let alone all the other stuff.

Before being found on the pantry floor by her son and taken to the hospital, Annu held Shayne in his arms inside a stone room. Both Demi-Gods fresh from ascension, and filled with universal power. All they’d been through to get there seemed like a dream, and she’d fucked it up.

Shayne in the ultimate moment of stupidity mentioned Earth one too many times, and in a flash a wormhole ripped Shayne back to her home planet and away from love.

True fucking love and shit too.

Annu’s shocked expression tormented her. “Damn you medication for making me forget it even for one second.”

A branch stuck into her back, Shayne wriggled further onto the hospital’s back lawn, a large pile of dried bird poop on her right fared better than her. “We did everything right and in return we weren’t given time to soak in our success; the greatest moment of existence. Let alone kiss and enjoy things. No, not me. I got cosmically shafted. As usual.”

Shayne yanked out a wad of grass and tossed it to the side. “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind, there’s something pleasant about that place, even your emotions had a gecko, and so much pace. Mmm. Does that make me crazyyyy? Does that make me–oh wait apparently it does.”

Neighbourhood dogs howled, a flock of magpies a few metres ahead shot into the air.

Bastards don’t appreciate a good voice. Oh what does it matter? My new life waits on the other side of the Galaxy, through the stupid wormhole–an hour and a half, several security guards, and several door alarms from here.

Shayne resigned herself to no Knight in shining armour arriving to rescue her from the current dilemma.

Rather, a retard in tin foil waited on this one planet, on the hospital lawn, deep in thought and determined. “It’s not the first time I’ve saved myself. It’s probably like the third. Surely I can do it again?”

I miss my chocolate hulk.

Shayne shook her head, Annu lingered in her mind. Her belly gurgled, doubt poked into her thoughts.

Is he still waiting for me? No, he probably gave up, and I cant blame him. He’s probably relishing in glory–alone.

Shayne tried to twirl her jade ring, its absence on her naked finger shot another wave of panic through Shayne. She’d grown accustomed to the odd piece of jewellery despite its catalytic nature.

Where did it go? I must have lost it when I burst through the wall. Its got to be under the pantry shelf.

Shayne massaged a lump in her shoulder and sighed. “Another thing that doesn’t matter because I’m not getting out right now, so fuck it and fuck them.”

She scanned again for any sign of staff; all clear. Eyes squinted; she pulled out a smoke and lit it. Shayne inhaled to her lung’s capacity, held the breath and fought coughing.

Hold it in, don’t waste it. Any second now it will be worth it. You’ve got to cough to get off don’t you?

The scratch in her lungs eased, a warm rush numbed her senses and removed life’s edges. While it didn’t remove the body pain, it made not caring about it easier.

Another toke and the sweet smoke filled her chest. The reason Shayne sat next to the gate drifted away with the breeze.

Three quarters of her mind mushed, the remaining quarter niggled at her.

Focus. Don’t waste more time. Don’t fall back into old habits. Oh yeah – escape plan, future leader, blah blah blah. Wait, focus on what? What else can I do? Ive got no powers, no ring, no wormhole. A big fat nothing. Protesting gets me nowhere and all my other attempts are well–unrealistic.

Shayne blew smoke rings into the sky. “Where are you when I need you Ghost Dad? Huh?”

He hasn’t answered to that name yet. Maybe I should call him Ki unless he tells me otherwise?

Eyes closed, mid puff–she attempted telepathy again.

‘Ah Ki, can you help me, please? Or am I too far away for you to hear?

A bird on the lawn squawked, no one else answered her. “Okay so that’s a no then. Fine. Whatever.”

Shayne pushed off the grass and levered up her legs to stand. She pulled the phone from her pocket and re-read Erin’s last text message.

‘I don’t know if I’m coming for a visit tomorrow. It’s hard for me to visit you in there, Mum.

The words buried Shayne in guilt and mocked her efforts at becoming a better parent, let alone have kids proud of her. “Hah. Another epic fail dickhead.”

Once they know the truth everything will change. I’ve got to make them believe me, show them somehow. Any ideas rolling around in my brain feel free to pop up.

Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and her mind remained empty.  

None–really? Oh why is everything so fucking hard? All this thinking is stressing me the fuck out.

Shayne raised the smoke to her lips and killed all negative thoughts. Mid drag, the joint flew in one direction, the lighter in another. Her mouth dropped, Shayne’s last piece of sanity disappeared. A flick on the arm drew her attention to reality and away from herbal oblivion.

Hand to her chest, Shayne faced the buzz-killer culprit.

Nurse Rye. Fuck, crap. Of all the people to catch me. Shit, shit, shit.

A thick plume of smoke exploded in the nurse’s face, she coughed in response.

Shayne swished the smoke away. “Oh fu–u–er, flip. Nurse Rye–what a surprise. Damn woman, are you a ninja in your off time?”

Her bowel clenched, the nurse’s presence scared the crap back up into her intestines. A number of excuses ran through Shayne’s mind, all with better things to do than come out her mouth.

Geoffrey’s head poked around Nurse Rye’s middle and pointed at Shayne. “Found you, your highness. See, you can’t escape me. Ha. I win.”

Since arriving at the hospital Shayne followed a Forrest Gump’s reasoning; if crazy is what crazy does, Geoffrey fell into the bat-shit category. “Geoffrey for the twentieth time it’s goddess not highness. And I know–I can’t escape a damned thing.”

A deep growl erupted against Shayne’s ear; she flinched. Geoffrey bolted from the nurse’s side and out of sight.

The nurse’s shadow blocked Shayne’s sun. “Right this is the last time I deal with you. All you do is spout nonsense, smoke drugs and try to escape. If that wasn’t bad enough, and worse still, you refuse to accept the help you desperately need. You make my job impossible. One way or another you will follow the rules.”

The nurse’s grip tightened; she glared at the lighter on the ground. Her crinkled face resembled a prune. “And, you have contraband. Where did you get it from?”

Quick, dick-head make something up.

“Off a visitor. I hid it in my sock.”

I reiterate, dick head.

Nurse prune grunted, a vein pulsed in her forehead. “You’re forbidden from the common room and confined to your bed aside from meal times. Now, I’m taking you straight to the doctor where I’ll give her a full report. Move it.”

Shayne shuffled at the nurse’s side, the nurse’s death grip prevented playing dead. Breasts considered unnatural wonders smushed against her cheeks, with the consistency of tennis balls in wet socks, they swung in hypnotic rhythm. Shayne stifled the urge to poke them to see if they acted like memory foam.

Headed toward the main building, the unlikely duo caught the immediate attention of both patients and medical staff. Crazy and sane eyes followed their path through the main doors and down the hall.

Great, an audience. Like I need another one of those.

Shayne mumbled into inflated flesh. “Couldn’t you have taken me around the side way and maybe made less of a scene?” Her arm throbbed under the nurses grasp. “Ouch, when I’ve got my powers back you bitch, you’re done for. This is totally unfair.”

Heat burned the top of Shayne’s head, the nurse’s voice bored through her soul. “Oh, yes, that’s right, your amazing magic powers. They haven’t done you much good so far have they? And I bet they didn’t remind you about your doctor’s appointment this morning either?”

The small buzz from the half joint went stone-cold dead. Bam, a wet fish smacked Shayne in the face. “No and no. Crap.”

Escape plan escalated to top priority, finding real chocolate can wait.

******

On a mission, Nurse Rye barged into the doctor’s office. Doctor Unders poked her head above a sea of paperwork. Eyebrows thick enough to hide in covered the middle of her face.

Geez I wish you’d pluck those. Maybe she’ll let me do it one day.

A pen fell from Doctor Unders mouth and landed with a plop on the table. “Nurse Rye, what the hell are you thinking? Remove your hands from this patient immediately.”

The ground rumbled, Shayne suspected steam might erupt out the nurse’s ears.

“If I let her go, she’ll run off again. I caught her out the back alone and smoking drugs–again. She somehow manages to evade the staff and sneak off. How I do not know. And there’s no doubt she’s probably plotting another futile escape as we speak. I have a great deal of work already to do, and not enough people to spend time chasing around after her. She should be medicated adequately so she can’t get out of bed and cause trouble.”

Shayne imagined kicking the nurse’s shin.

If it didn’t get me put in solitary I’d relocate your nose for you.

To her credit, the Doctor didn’t appear intimidated. “You’ll leave the patient’s diagnosis to me, thanks. Perhaps if you supervised your staff better, this wouldn’t happen. How about you go investigate how Mr. Berris is able to swap his lithium for viagra any time he likes and leave me to my job.”

Saggy old balls dangled for a moment in Shayne’s mind, a cold chill followed.

Nurse Rye released her grip on Shayne’s arm and slapped her own thigh. “Fine. I expect you’ll put her on report.”

Shayne remained wedged between the nurse and the door frame without care. Even if she could move, she’d stay put and witness this show down. “Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.”

“Stop telling me what to do. If you don’t leave my office now, you’ll have staples to remove from your forehead in thirty seconds.” The doctor grabbed the stapler. “Twenty.”

The tension in the room intensified, Nurse Angry prune transformed into the Furious Tomato.

Despite the nurse’s fury, Doctor Unders didn’t waver her glare. “Ten.”

With a huff, Nurse Rye wedged backwards out of the room.

Once she’d reached a safe distance away, Shayne pushed off the doorframe, past shelves filled with physiology text books, towards the one un-cracked plastic chair. She sat adjacent to a deconstructed torso, and hung pictures drawn by patients.

The childlike art broke up nausea inducing yellow, but nothing hid the aged furniture and pea green stained carpet. Shayne recited by memory the names of each text book on each shelf and artist on the wall.

Dr. Overs used her motherly voice. “Shayne, you forgot your appointment and got caught smoking, again. What are we going to do about this?”

Several of Geoffrey’s pieces took up the middle section. None of hers, she hated art. It ate into her TV watching time.

Maybe I could try being invisible. Eyes closed and focus.

“Shayne? Are you with me?”

Shit. She can still see me. Suck it up. “No, I’m not with you at all. I want to go home.”

Doctor Unders’ sigh ricocheted off the desk. “I get it, we all do. But the fact remains, you are still heavily influenced by your delusions. They haven’t altered in strength one iota since your arrival.”

“Well duh. Because it happened, it’s all true and I’m not nuts. Simple.”

“Do you understand we need actual evidence other than your say so about you being royalty and all? And there’s your physical issues which further complicate things. However, I’m sure we’re close to discovering why you have such high levels of DMT in your blood. That’s one thing at least.”

Why don’t people listen to me?

“For the hundredth time, I’m a goddess not royalty. Different kettle of fish.”

Get it right, you morons.

Shayne picked at a strand on her pants. “Huh? DM what?”

“Aha. DMT is a chemical found in people immediately prior to the moment of death. You have a consistent high level in your blood, which I believe may be linked to this delusional behaviour.”

Shayne tapped her head. It echoed. “You won’t find anything wrong with my brain. What about the –”

Doctor Unders cut Shayne off with a raised hand. “Before you say it, we can’t find any biological evidence of you being immortal or having magic powers, nor of your finger being chopped off and, ah, grown back.”

Stupid narrow-minded people surrounded her. “For the tenth time, you aren’t using the right equipment.”

“Shayne, it’s time you faced facts. This other planet–Orion–with all these people and fantastical events are a creation of your mind. None of it happened. It’s illogical. Do yourself a favour and let it go. Concede you need help. In time, if you respond to treatment, you will be able to go home.”

The strand came loose, Shayne selected another. “No, I won’t change my mind. I can’t, every part of it is real. The good, the bad, the ugly. Somehow, someway, I’ll prove it to you.”

A curl broke free from back of the doctor’s head, it sprung into her face. “Are you still taking your medication?”

“Yes.”

Im still taking vitamins.

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “If you don’t take the meds, they don’t work. Shayne, I’ve always had a lot of time for you. Yet, it’s a struggle to balance this duality within you. I know there is a healthy person in there. They’re just buried under a mountain of tragic events and bad judgment. When you’re not talking about Orion, and the kitchen hasn’t run out of anything chocolate flavoured, you appear mentally sound. With all this in mind, at this point in time in good medical consciousness, I can’t release you.”

Shayne’s stomach climbed her abdomen, up her throat, and dropped onto the floor. She refused to cry, instead stabbing a pencil at the desk.

Cant someone cut me some slack?

“First of all, the chocolate flavoured shit’s the only thing substituting for lack of actual chocolate because you consider the wrappers a choking hazard. Second, for fuck’s sake. I AM NOT nuts. Yes, long ago I spent some time in a psych ward for a few weeks. This is different.”

Doctor Unders’ tone softened. “I didn’t say nuts but you had nightmares, migraines, and hallucinations then too. Except for a much more elaborate delusion, how is this time unlike the other? This man Annu you’ve created, coincidentally, turned into the love of your life and a perfect match. And, his mother, Irica, is the mother you’ve longed for.”

Shayne shoved Irica out of her mind, and shuddered. “Don’t talk about Irica again.”

“Alright, I’m sorry. I forgot.”

She’d not let defeat claim her; Shayne grabbed inner strength. “Look it’s not the same at all okay. Well, actually it’s kind of a bit the same, but not. Back then, I saw and heard some strange things which didn’t make sense. Myself, boosted by a few others, thought I’d lost it. Until I travelled to Orion recently, I realised those so called hallucinations were visions of my future, and I wasn’t crazy at all. I did get pulled into a wormhole in my pantry and onto Orion. Me and Annu defeated an ancient God, Sham-man, I mean Shamesh, and a few others along the way. It wasn’t easy. Plus I got kidnapped, froze people, got hurt and all sorts of shit–yet ended up back home, where again, no one believes me. And trust me, if I made up a dream world, do you really think there would be so much death and destruction in it? I’d design it so I walked in, got my powers, and life turned into butterflies and fucking rainbows. Not ended with me here powerless in a mental hospital with a chronic illness.”

Shayne stuck her finger in the hole she’d created in her pants. “Which is caused from me being from Orion not Earth. My DNA isn’t meant for here.”

Doctor Unders glasses dropped on the desk beside the pen. “I thought you accepted you’re sick from the autoimmune disease Psoriatic Arthritis. Shayne, your fantastical evidence can’t be validated. Like the magical ring, which you don’t have, wormholes no one else sees, and life on another planet. Which you claim to be a Demi-God of, and none of it can be proven. And yet it won’t sink in that head of yours. Shayne, what about the effect this has on your kids? If it were true, wouldn’t they believe you? Wouldn’t someone have seen something?”

Bam, smacked on the other side of the face with another wet fish. “Leave Erin and Ryan out of it. They don’t understand yet, but they will. As soon as I get out of here. I just need to get back home.”

“Well I’ve got to tell you, it’s going to be a while and you aren’t getting out of this session. I’ve got 20 minutes left Shayne. Can we talk about your ex husband?”

Where were all these fish coming from?

“No. At least that son of a bitch is dead.”

The doctor probed her face. “Each of these wrinkles is your fault.” Another curl on the opposite side broke free; together the curls formed white horns around the doctor’s face. “Fine. Let’s start from when you moved into the other house.”

Do I spend twenty minutes fighting the session, or play nice and use to the time to figure a way out of this crap hole?

“Shayne?”

Shayne spotted the Doc’s handbag next to the desk, no easily accessible keys stuck out the top.

Damn, I better think of another idea.

About R.L.

“R.L Andrew is a former Legal Executive, chronically ill Australian writer and Movie Reviewer. Along with many short stories published in International Anthologies R.L. is also a regular, long term contributor to the CrypticRock.com Website based in New York.

Her first book ‘A Lunatic’s Guide to Interplanetary Relationships’ will soon be published by JaCol Publishing, an American based publisher. The sequel ‘A Demigoddess’s Guide to Intergalactic Parenting’ is currently in revision stage.”

Get your copy of A Lunatic’s Guide To Interplanetary Relationships on Amazon.

You can also find her on Facebook, the Interwebs, and Twitter.

Book Review – Pawns by Patrick Hodges

I used to have this story rattling around in my head about a ship from the future that gets damaged in a firefight and crashes on a planet where magic was very real and very dangerous. It would have been an interesting examination of the inherent equality built into technology versus the inequality where magic – and therefore power – was concentrated in the hands of the few. At some point or another, I may still write it, but the key point of high-tech coming into contact with high-magic was the unique part about it and Patrick Hodges just beat me to the punch.

Such is life.

Patrick Hodges has finally made the jump from YA fiction (which was very good stuff anyway) in the real world to more adult YA fiction centered in a fictional world. This is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Joshua’s Island was an excellent examination of bullying and the general crap people deal with when they’re growing up, but Pawns is a much larger story. Some of themes are still there, at least in a nascent form, but the themes are background to the story instead of the driver of the story.

Pawns – Book 1 of The Wielders of Arantha saga has, at its heart, the same kinds of studies of growing up and learning to adapt, but packages it in a sci-fi realm where magic and technology are suddenly thrust together. So, now my opening paragraph makes sense.

Pawns is a unique mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, set on a faraway planet where the rules are different from what our intrepid Earthlings expect. It’s a tightly woven story told from multiple points of view and, while it’s the first in a series, gives us a solid tale.

And that’s the only real downside to the story. This book, like most first books in a series, is primarily here to introduce the characters and situation and get the ball rolling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid story here, but Pawns’ primary purpose is to build a world. And, to be fair, it’s a heck of a world, richly detailed and populated with interesting characters. I don’t know how many books Hodges has planned for the series, but this one will definitely be the one to start with.

The fact that it’s a great read is just icing on the cake.

Seven hundred years in the future, the Jegg – a powerful alien race – invade Earth, wiping out half of the Terran Confederation.

In a hidden base under the Sahara Desert, a team of scientists works to mount a resistance against the invaders. Their plan is to fit an Earth ship with Jegg folding-space technology, and travel to the other side of the galaxy to find a mysterious energy source… one that could help them defeat the Jegg.

But just before departure, catastrophe strikes. Only two of the crew survive and make it to their destination: the team leader’s wife Maeve, and her teenage son Davin. What they find on the distant planet will forever change both the future of their family and their planet, as they enter a race against time… and against impossible odds.

Get your copy here

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Book Review – The Welcome by Tom Benson et al

For starters, the full title of the Book is The Welcome and Other Sci-Fi Stories but it just looked awkward sitting up there taking up all the space. It’s also not just Tom Benson’s work, although he was the primary author of the collection. Other writers contributed stories to The Welcome as well:

  • AA Jankiewicz
  • Pam Kesterson
  • Paul A Ruddock
  • Val Tobin
  • WK Tucker

So, that settled, let’s tuck in to the book. In case you hadn’t guess, this is a collection of science fiction stories that run the gamut from horror to hope to self-sacrifice and everything in between. It’s what I like to refer to as a smorgasbord of awesome. Tom even added a few bonus stories from his other collections including a bit of sci-fi erotica.

Like all good science fiction, the stories focus on the human elements of the narrative and use the sci-fi elements as backdrop. This kind of sci-fi gives writers whole new worlds to populate and cuts the restraining orders of reality to ribbons. Always, though, the stories come back to the people that populate those worlds and how they react to the adversity of being stuck on strange planets, eaten by blobs, put in a position where they have to sacrifice themselves to save others, or the woman who comes across a very special man.

Sometimes operatic, sometimes intimate, sometimes intimate in that way, The Welcome and Other Sci-Fi Stories provides a tasty treat of delightful morsels of science fiction. And, at only $1.99 it’s a steal.

thewelcome

Get your copy here

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Links for the other authors in the anthology

 

Book Review – Timberwolf by Tom Julian

One of the cool things about being an author is you get to know other authors.  Sometimes, if you’re really nice to those other authors, they let you read things that haven’t been released yet.  This is the case with Tom Julian’s Timberwolf.  If all goes as planned and my evil schemes come to fruition I’ll be able to say I had the first blog review of the first book of someone who’s probably going to become a big name in Sci-Fi in coming years.

Excuse me whilst I twirl my mustache evilly.

Soon the Rebellion will be crushed... What? Wrong character and wrong story? Sorry.

Soon the Rebellion will be crushed… What? Wrong character and wrong story? Sorry.

The Timberwolf in the title refers to the main character of the book, a straight-forward guy named Timberwolf Velez.  He’s a fighter, a straight-shooter, and a guy with a big damned spider stuck in his head.  It’s hard to not like Timberwolf, or at the very least respect him.

In the future, as humanity finally got off its collective butt and started out for the stars, we discovered that we were not the only sentient life in the galaxy.  We took our tools, our petty worries, our warlike nature, and – perhaps worst of all – our religious beliefs out among the stars with us.  When we encountered alien life we found it was incompatible with our religious views.  How can God have created us in his image and also created giant mind-bending spiders in his image?  Someone, it would seem, is lying and those guys over there look pretty freaky so they must be the ones that need to go.

See! Bongos! Heretics!

See! Bongos! Heretics!

Religious dogma being what it is, we exterminated (or attempted to exterminate) every bit of sentient life we came across on the grounds that God meant for that happen.  This is the backdrop to Timberwolf.  The story takes place after humanity has mopped the floor with almost everyone except the Arnok (the aforementioned spiders).  True to the best science fiction stories, Timberwolf has a human heart; it’s not about the combat suits or space ships, it’s about the people and their motivations for doing what they do.  Like all good sci-fi, the bad guys trend more toward morally ambiguous than flat-out evil and the good guys are only slightly less morally ambiguous.  This gives us a well-rounded cast of characters that you can actually relate to.  Even the giant spider is relatable (for those of you not terrified by the thought of giant mind-controlling spiders).

The downside to all that war is there are people out there who want to continue it and will do anything in their power to finally get rid of the mote in God’s eye (the giant spiders).  There are groups who only want money and power, a group who will stop at nothing to prevent another war, and our good friend Timberwolf Velez, who just wants the spider out of his head.

spiderfly

Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to overcome my fear of spiders.

There are some seriously big themes covered in this novel, and they’re covered well.  Religion takes a couple shots on the nose, as do regular human greed, and our tendency to attempt to justify our horrible actions through flimsy excuses.  There is one serious shot across the bow of religious dogmatism that comes toward the end of the novel as the antagonist (who himself is actually relatable, too) is watching the events he conspired to create unfold in ways he didn’t anticipate, but you’ll just have to read the novel to see what I’m talking about.  It’s a moment that is uplifting and soul crushing all at the same time, a perfect single line.

Timberwolf will be released August 20, 2015.  Be sure to get a copy.

“Humanity has expanded beyond the borders of Earth into the far reaches of space. Human ingenuity has also expanded—as well as its theology.
On one side of an interplanetary war: a new religious order, dedicated to the expansion of human enlightenment. On another side, loosely connected to the order but hardly on the same page: the military, dedicated to the expansion of human influence.
And then there are the aliens. Worlds beyond understanding. Planets beyond comprehension. Forces which represent threats that cannot be calculated, and so must be eliminated.
Timberwolf is a soldier with too many voices in his head. Gray is a bishop with grander ambitions than his church. Highland is a planet run entirely by artificial intelligence—all of these factors point to the same conclusion: God has a story for everyone—or so the scripture of the day says.
This story is just beginning.”

timberwolf

Get it here (on or after August 20, 2015)

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