Twelve authors contributed to this volume, and every one of them brought considerable story telling skill and a gamer's sensibility. Fans of gamerpunkTwelve authors contributed to this volume, and every one of them brought considerable story telling skill and a gamer's sensibility. Fans of gamerpunk, high fantasy, an sci-fi will all find something to love here. ...more
It’s two years into the end of the world as we know it and Prescott is having a bad day.
The Freaks—agents of disease and destruction who are marshaleIt’s two years into the end of the world as we know it and Prescott is having a bad day.
The Freaks—agents of disease and destruction who are marshaled and directed by a lunatic named Kade—are multiplying, and going on a new offensive against his private holdfast in Chicago. His friends have turned up dead and he needs to convince a selection of freedom fighters that he’s not a bad guy. He’s just rescued a starving dog named Lexi and is trying to make a go of it in old Nashville, Music City itself—but is finding that all roads lead back to Kade.
Oh, and he’s just found out that his father—Mr. Prescott—is actually an agent of Chaos, the demon that has wrecked the world and laughs as it spins further out of its orbit.
Bob Williams has written a post apocalyptic novel that any fan of the genre will love. Being a part of the now-ended Apocalypse Weird series by Wonderment Media isn’t slowing it down at all. All the trappings and hallmarks of the AW books are in place, and help direct the action and characters toward their inevitable confrontation.
Being a first novel, it has a few drawbacks. Williams is still learning his way around long form fiction, which gave the structure of the work a few rough edges. The characters don’t always speak in unique voices, which sometimes made if difficult for me to figure out who was saying what in crowd scenes. The action is everpresent but the pacing faltered in places, which sometimes made the book read like a fifty page long bar fight.
But for all that, it’s a solid story with interesting characters, a fascinating setting (I could have done with a bit more music, seeing how it’s Music City Macabre, but…), heroes worth rooting for and a big bad that deserves to go down hard. I’m looking forward to seeing Williams hone his story telling skills and push his characters through the ugly wasteland of future volumes.
All in all, Bob Williams has written a solidly good read! ...more
The bad news is that I've only finished one story in this enticing anthology. The good news is that if the rest are as good as Kim Wells' Undead CyborThe bad news is that I've only finished one story in this enticing anthology. The good news is that if the rest are as good as Kim Wells' Undead Cyborg Girl then it'll be worth the wait. To wit: patient zero has just undergone an invasive operation and died on the table. Luckily, her new implants are keeping her alive and on her game as a cyborg assassin. Sadly, they could not save her conscious memory. She adopts the moniker Undead Girl and intends to live her life as well as she can. And that's the problem. Her old life is gone and her new one is...a lot stranger.
There is, for example the need for connection…which she finds by getting a kitten. Then there’s the need for status…which she tackles by starting an online fight with the robotic head of the Undead Assassin’s Guild. Finally, there is the need for love…which leads her on a merry path down to the local coffee house. Through all of it, Undead Girl learns more about herself, her new limitations, and new possibilities on how to actually live life to the fullest.
Many of these stories focus on an individual who's rendered non-dying, but some apply the concept more broadly: D.K. Cassidy's "Room 42," and Thomas RMany of these stories focus on an individual who's rendered non-dying, but some apply the concept more broadly: D.K. Cassidy's "Room 42," and Thomas Robbins' "Eternity Today" are riffs on the entire human race's sudden conversion to undying status. E.E. Giorgi's heart-wrenching story "The House on the Cliff" tells of a man made immortal by means of his own cancer cells. "Legacy," by David Bruns, describes a driven CEO's effort to live forever by replacing himself with bionic parts over the course of centuries. "Rememorations," by Paul B. Kohler limits his protagonist's immortal status to his ability to pay for it--and his willingness to forget pieces of his past. And John Gregory Hancock's "The Antares Cigar Shoppe" stood out for the old school A.E. Van Vogt vibe that it brought to the table.
But the award for Most Unintentionally Horrifying Story About Immortality has to go to Gareth Foy, who penned “The Essence of Jaime’s Father.” This piece manages to be the most abstract yet gut-wrenching bit of work in this volume, and I'm not entirely sure how Foy pulled it off. I'm not even sure he intended to do this. All I know is that this story opened up a pit of despair in my soul that I generally only feel when engaged in Facebook discussions about religion and foreign policy.
In a nutshell, Jaime is a young man experiencing the beginning of Earth' death throes, as the sun expands to swallow the inner solar system. Science has bought the Earth a few extra thousand years, but red giants are inevitable and physics is a harsh mistress. His father, however, has an answer: convert humanity to beings of pure energy and let them wander the universe until time itself grinds to a halt. Jaime and billions of others are looking forward to this, but Jaime's father has decided not to go through with the transition. Not because he's afraid of his project's implications, but because he feels the need to stay behind to let those who fear a permanent existence know that death is still possible in that state. Eventually we learn that Jaime's old man has already done this countless times, and has lived through countless versions of the universe.
That's where I started freaking out. Of the great stories in this collection, Foy's is the only one that addresses the utter tedium of watching the universe roll out, expand, breed life, destroy life, and collapse, over and over again. Worse, every time the cycle resets, it's the same universe unrolling in the same way, right down to the people who are born (and die), and the order in which they appear and vanish back to the dust whence they came. It's like being trapped in a drive-in movie theater with the same four double-features forever. Sure, it'll take a while to memorize every line of every film, but eventually you're going to want to slit your wrists, except you can't because you're made of pure energy. (It works out in the end, but...Gah!)...more
Everyone remembers the day they truly became an adult; some call it the best day of their lives while others think of it as the worst. Kasey Byrne wilEveryone remembers the day they truly became an adult; some call it the best day of their lives while others think of it as the worst. Kasey Byrne will never make that choice, because it's just been taken away from her. Her old life has ended along with her world. What remains is an existential comment on the details; her memories, her regrets, her dashed hopes for the future, and the insanely deadly situation which she now navigates on a one way trip to the End of the World.
As the book opens, eight-year-old Kasey is playing on the beach when a stranger hands her an amulet, insisting that he's sorry. For all the fuss her Mom makes of the encounter, Kasey feels safe when wearing the device, embossed with the figure of a white dragon.
Ten years later, she's living the life of a million other Long Island girls her age: school is done, and summer approaches. She baby-sits her neighbors' kids for cash. She has friends, a decent home life, a new car (a birthday present from her Dad to compensate for a bitter divorce), plenty of time to go surfing on the South Shore, and a boy who is interested in her.
All that comes to a screeching halt after she wakes to find thousands of dolphins in the process of beaching themselves, in obvious terror from something looming on the horizon.
That thing is, of course, the Apoclypse, embodied in this case by the Black Dragon and her Black Ship minions which hold the people of Babylon, New York, in their bloody grip. Kasey must find other survivors as she and Jack (the boy mentioned previously) weather the death of her mother and murder of the police who answered the call; the kidnapping of Jack and Kasey's long, hard journey to retrieve him.
She picks up valuable help in her travels: Jennifer Wang, an ex-Marine M.D., Blair, just a professional guy trying to keep it together in the face of his wife's death, and Aarika, the extremely practical, forward-thinking Indian kid who ran his uncle's gas station until all hell broke loose.
All this leads to Douglas, the man who gave Kasey the amulet ten years ago. And he is the only one who can train her to weather the rigors to come as the world teeters and tips into oblivion.
Stefan Bolz has given us what he describes as a "very personal" story. It's a poetic tale that draws readers in by dangling the myth of childhood as an idyllic, perfect, blissful state of being before us, and shatters it (and his characters) by smashing the mythology against the ugly, harsh face of disaster.
Suitable both for adult and YA audiences, my only complaint about Genesis is that the book ends on a cliff hanger: with Kasey taking a literal leap of faith in order to learn what she needs to harness the power of the White Dragon and save the world.
Confession time: I just finished Forbes West’s addition to the AW universe, Medium Talent, and oh, does my head hurt. West has a Hemmingway thing goinConfession time: I just finished Forbes West’s addition to the AW universe, Medium Talent, and oh, does my head hurt. West has a Hemmingway thing going on, and it’s grizzly, ugly, and stressful to read. Forget the facts, the iceberg theory of writing, the Kilimanjaro stuff, or the Spanish civil war. Hell, forget about the old guy alone in the cabin with the shotgun on his lap. Forget all that, because if you don’t, you head will hurt, too.
Medium Talent is the tale of Key West survivors of a world-spanning hurricane three years earlier; the Supply Org (the AW version of FEMA) is the last bit of government around, which gives aid and comfort to the fortress fleet of the rich and powerful, while the denizens of the Florida Keys and most other places scratch what they can out of crappy local economies. Danger is ever present: if it’s not the Supply Org shaking you down, it’s the playboys on their armored yachts, or the sea monsters, or the zombies, or local thugs, or even the infected who are warehoused in the Depository.
Into this sub-tropical hell hole we meet Wendy Wicker, captain of the Medium Talent, who presents herself as a smuggler, artist, wife, adopted mother, and incredibly violent borderline sociopath. Somehow she is all these things, and yet, truly none of them. Trying to give you a linear picture of this distinctly non-linear world and story would be a hopeless gesture, but I can tell you the Wendy is far more complicated than she seems, she does meet Hemmingway back in 1934 Key West, and deep down she really does want to save the world. Or at least her little corner of it.
Anyway, the Hemmingway thing has its advantages; it creates a fascinating thread through a rollicking world that alternately confuses and makes perfect sense. It gets weird, but that’s sort of the name of the game, isn’t it?...more
Ezra Pound famously told writers to “make it new” even while others told them there was nothing new under the sun. Eric Tozzi has managed to do both wEzra Pound famously told writers to “make it new” even while others told them there was nothing new under the sun. Eric Tozzi has managed to do both with the latest addition to the Apocalypse Weird universe, the novel Phoenix Lights. The title of the book is taken from the 1997 UFO sighting over Phoenix, Arizona and Tozzi uses this background as a springboard for his own world-shattering rendition of an alien invasion. In the text, super-secret lab resident Gage Slater is at odds with his sister, Kris, who deals with an apparent alien abduction by creating a UFO Busters show. In search of what? We don’t know--and neither does Kris or her crew, really--but in the end it doesn’t matter, as the aliens arrives in a massive city-sized ship and find them (and everyone else) first. Gage and Kris re-connect in the ruins of Sedona, Arizona as they come across a blind musician named April Vargas, who has her own past and problems: in a world of literal blindness, she is able to see for the first time in her life, for a limited time. A much worse problem arives in the form of Vincent, who clearly knows more than he’s saying and has no one’s best interests at heart except his own. Tozzi has set up a unique sandbox for the AW setting. Even though we get the standard setup of 88, Black Hand minions, and a band of survivors braving the end of everything, the story never seems hackneyed nor the events unnecessary. The action pulls us along on a road trip from hell and never lets up as we find out more about the aliens’ objectives and their reasons for arriving. There’s just enough real life setting to make the wackier potions of the drama seem like they could be possible, which is what good fiction does. Bottom line is that Tozzi knows how to tell a good story and this book is too darned short. I’m waiting for his next installment and I’m curious to see if anyone will pick up the mantle of a second tier book in this particular setting. We can hope. In the meantime, we can buy this book and tell others about it. It’s that good. ...more
The Hoodoopocalypse has arrived, and its name is Kim Wells.
Seriously: Hoodoopocalypse is the most recent addition to Wonderment Media’s Apocalypse WeThe Hoodoopocalypse has arrived, and its name is Kim Wells.
Seriously: Hoodoopocalypse is the most recent addition to Wonderment Media’s Apocalypse Weird series, and it’s a ton of fun. (I reviewed an ARC of the book.) I’ve been to new Orleans a bunch of times, I can tell you about the shops I’ve visited and people I’ve met, but none of it compares to the quasi-fictional world that Wells has chosen as the backdrop of her work.
It’s a pretty wacky tale as such things go: Kalfu, Papa Legba’s evil opposite in the realm of loa, has a project: the ruin of New Orleans. To this end he’s made it his business to disseminate cursed voodoo dolls to tourists far and wide, and a few locals as well. One of the these recruits is Lee Lee, a vain, self-absorbed housewife and mother of two who remains unaware that she’s been placed on Kalfu’s short list of henchmen (and women), even as she defends her place in the local school’s car pool pickup line by beating another soccer mom to a bloody pulp. Police are called, Lee Lee spends the night in lockup, then steals a squad car to drive home where she is properly inducted into the world of apocalyptic day jobs by the Guede, Kalfu’s version of the Black Hand.
While Lee Lee goes about learning her new trade, we meet two denizens of Jackson Square: Marie, a fortune teller who caters to tourists, and her mentor Mere (think Kathy Bates as Swamp Witch Mom in Adam Sandler’s TheWaterboy), who’s been painting protective magic into canvases for decades. When the Blindness descends on the city the Guede swing into action, pillaging stores for supplies, attacking tourists, and utilizing the trolley cars on Canal Street to ferry hapless victims to the NOLA Superdome, the sports station which gained notoriety during the aftermath of Katrina. The game of the day is hand-to-hand combat and gladiatorial games, involving Marie’s boyfriend, Marshall, and a number of animals acquired from the New Orleans Zoo. Mere and Marie pick up others along the way as they navigate the ruined cityscape, roving gangs of Guede, and a fire the consumes most of the French Quarter.
Did I mention Hurricane Glenn, a cat 5 monster which is expected to make landfall within 48 hours? Yeah.
It’s not the most linear book I’ve read; the action is distributed between several groups who engage with their stories simultaneously. And some story arcs like Lee Lee’s never quite gel with the other plot lines. That’s easy to overlook, however, because the action is paced well enough to keep us from getting too distracted.
Kim Wells has written a fun, engaging story that brings the more amusing aspects of N’Awlins mythology to life. I found myself wishing for another hundred pages to round out the character’s arcs. That’s due to the limits of the medium, not her skill as a story-teller: the story is huge, the scholarly work regarding Voudon alone encompasses hundreds of volumes, and Wells has only got 150 pages to work with. But she makes it work; the action is clipped but never contrived, and the cliffhanger ending allows her plenty of room to expand her corner of the Apocalypse Weird ‘verse. ...more
There are many things that annoy me as a reader. Authors who insert horrific scenes about the abuse of children or animals as a quick way to move theThere are many things that annoy me as a reader. Authors who insert horrific scenes about the abuse of children or animals as a quick way to move the plot forward is one of them. Nick Cole, however is not one of those authors, and his latest contribution to the Apocalypse Weird universe is proof of that.
AW: The Dark Night is Cole's second solo AW book, which immediately follows the action in AW: The Red King. In AW: TRK we read about the fall of civilization in southern California. About Holiday, a depressed drunk with repressed memories of boot camp; about Ash, a Spetznaz trained M.D. with a heart of gold; about Frank, an older guy with a taste for fine Italian cuisine and disturbing marksmanship skills; Ritter, a skinny white guy who badly wants to be a gangsta; and Braddock, a special forces soldier with orders to revenge the U.S. government against its enemies, "whatever it takes." Over the course of the book, these folks learn to deal with the appearance of zombies, the breakdown of civilization, and the secrets that they dole out with eyedroppers to each other.
In this follow-up novel, we see that Frank, Ash, Ritter and a few others have built themselves a fortress out of the remains of their suburban housing complex, no thanks to Holiday who nearly got them all overrun in the previous book. In a self-conscious attempt to get back into Frank and Ash's good graces, Holiday comes upon the idea of surrounding the complex with shipping containers. It works well enough to impress the others but Frank and Ash are not so easily placated.
Into this environment comes Cory, a special needs teen who has lost the only world he's known and is not well adapted to the one he finds himself in. He has one survival technique which is adapted for the new world: he puts on a cape and gloves and mask and becomes Batman. Batman can go out at night. Batman can defend himself against the undead hordes ("stranger danger" in Cory-speak) and Batman is never scared, even as Cory is quaking in his shoes.
Batman gets Cory through the ruined landscape one step at a time: from the house where he hides with the sitter to the local pharmacy, to escaping with Heather the stock girl, to accidentally plunging into a horrific blasted wasteland populated by killer robots and malevolent computers, to his own shattered world of zombies, to the suburban castle where he finally finds refuge.
Frankly, the only way you can not be sick with worry over Cory's plight is if you either A) have no heart, or B) have been dead for six weeks. And this gets to what I wrote about earlier: there is no sign of cheap emotional manipulation by Cole at any point in the narrative. He writes succinctly, getting deep into Cory's head, letting us experience where the boy is coming from on every step of his adventure and it never feels overdone or sentimental. It is merely authentic story telling.
Just about the only thing I didn't like about this book was that it was over way too soon. But that's fine, because Wonderment Media has a lot more material in the pipe and it's a very big world....more
Have you ever had one of those days where things go wrong, and then instead of straightening out, they just go wronger and wronger until everything yoHave you ever had one of those days where things go wrong, and then instead of straightening out, they just go wronger and wronger until everything you know is just completely screwed up? Sasha has one of those. She’s the heroine in Reversal, Jennifer Ellis’s contribution to the Apocalypse Weird universe. And boy, does she have problems.
Sasha Wood, a twenty-something meteorologist, has just landed her dream job as a research assistant at the International Polar Research Station. There are the usual pitfalls of dealing with new situations: co-workers who run the gamut from friendly to hostile, the painful isolation of living at the top of the world, and the weird fact that climate change seems to be, well, reversing itself. Her workplace crush on Soren Anderson, the station’s caretaker and survival expert, does not help. But after six months of dealing with the hostile environment, she feels that she’s managed well enough.
Then the arctic literally explodes as meteors rain down, blasting open methane pockets in the permafrost. Planes streak overhead to crash into nearby mountains while an apparently worldwide episode of mass blindness causes panic all over the globe and wreaks havoc inside the research station. Sasha and her co-workers manage to cope in the face of ice storms, but at the loss of half her team to the elements. As if that’s not enough, there are strange fog banks rising up from the methane craters which twist time and space to create passageways between the arctic and antarctic circles. To add to the fun, the magnetic poles are wonky, all communications with the outside world are down, and the only voice Sasha can get on the radio is a crazy woman who chatters about the imminent arrival of The Dragon. We won’t even discuss the supposedly dead volcano that’s violently erupting in the south pole.
If all this sounds confusing, it’s because confusion is the name of the game in Reversal. Jennifer Ellis has created a scenario that manages to be both claustrophobic and agoraphobic simultaneously. As we follow Sasha through her attempts to make sense of what’s going on around her, Ellis gives us small pieces of a massive puzzle one by one and trusts her readers to put them together in their heads. Some of Sasha’s co-workers are Black Hands either by design or last minute recruitment, and allies and enemies appear from the wastelands and disappear right back into them. (The penguins are relatively benign but the polar bears are literally out for blood.) There is one fixed point in the narrative: when the member of the 88 who goes by the name “Paul” (short for “Pollution”) lets her know that the world is ending and she has a chance to work for him. She refuses and navigates Hell on Ice in an attempt to save her life and Soren’s. As Ellis describes it, think The Thing meets The Core.
There are times when the narrative bogs down between the snowmobile chases and the blind treks through ice blizzards, especially as we’re constantly trying to figure who is working for which side (and I would have liked more polar bears). There are a few details that never get resolved–is the Dragon real or not, and where the heck is he, was one of my personal nitpicks–but the final result is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through Ellis’s environmental nightmares....more