“Retro Space Digest 2589”, by Eagle Monsoon – Review

Retro Space Digest 2589 is a wild ride of non-stop satirical comedy reminiscent of Monty Python Flying Circus meets National Lampoon. Presented as four seasonal editions of the Retro Space Digest periodical in the year 2589 (passed back in time to 2019), each edition contains editorials, reviews, ads (commercial and personal), weather reports, and short stories with a science fiction theme. Eagle Monsoon has artfully placed continuing subject threads between editions, e.g. the shift in political winds from a “Dear Leader” regime to regular kinder-gentler tyranny along the way. Each edition features a lead story as well as numerous supporting snippets. The featured short story plots include a high-stakes gauntlet run, runaway AI, dual citizenship in one head, and dual unscheduled gender transitions.

The author promises sex, spaceships, and swearing; any one of which would have had me through the door in a trice normally regardless. Eagle Monsoon writes very well and conveys a full impression of varied staff member writing styles, many of whom appear to have substance abuse issues. I especially enjoyed the fine details such as writer/character names, personal ads, liberal use of legal disclaimers illustrating the timeless idiocy of liability lawyers, and not to forget creative use of profanity in the higher service of low comedy. Retro Space Digest 2589 reminds me more than a little of National Lampoon’s High School Yearbook and Sunday Paper satires, where you had to read every word to fully appreciate the embedded humor. The situations and characters had me laughing so much, others wondered if my meds needed adjustment. The short stories are not nominally comedic, but each would be worthy of any science fiction anthology on their own merit. I highly recommend Retro Space Digest 2589 without reservation.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite

“Fable”, by various authors – Review

Fable is an anthology of short tales with a fairy tale theme, and the stipulation they are not quite the ones we all grew up on. From the beauty who is a beast to a different kind of songbird, the stories cover a lot of entertaining waterfront. I was surprised by the alacrity with which my mind accepted the concept of a gruff heavy metal goat band (why not I suppose; after all, a goat filled in for Stevie Nicks on a USO tour and no one even noticed. “Ree-baaaah-in…” No, I can’t back that up.) My two favorite stories were “Take it From the Bridge” and “Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother Tells All”, but most of the remaining 14 were very close. The book pulls you in and I found myself saying “I’ll read just one more..” until quite finished.

In summary, Fable is a worthy addition to your summer reading list and I recommend it highly.

“The Thirteen”, by M. M. Perry – Review

The 13 starts with portrayal of a late stage colony-ship mission which has gone dystopian. Crew members must maintain public control of their emotions or risk the perils of counseling (a euphemism for lobotomy). The protagonist, Naomi Tesla, is an engineer on the Magellan; which is beginning to show signs of age and mishap. The thirteen refers to the number of ships being sent to the target world as part of a fleet. Naomi becomes part of a mission to obtain spare parts from a sister ship, the Tereshkova, which has gone strangely silent. There she learns not everything she has been taught is true and those in charge on Magellan might have other reasons than the mission itself for the harsh conditions the crew experience every day.

The first part of the book was difficult to read for me, due to the tyranny involved. I like to think society would rebel before accepting such measures, but taking it as written is an important part of the story development. I eventually found myself fully engaged and enjoying the plot as it unfolded. The characters could use a little more depth, but it doesn’t detract much from the overall experience. Author Perry writes well and the editing was competent. I recommend The 13 for science fiction fans who enjoy political themes. I’m sure the subsequent books in the series will be entertaining as well as thought provoking.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only)

“Three: A Tale of the Bookseller’s Children”, by Deven Balsam – Review

Three: A Tale of the Bookseller’s Children is the initial installment of The Bookseller’s Children series. Deven Balsam tees up a mostly familiar universe, with a number of interesting twists. For an example, the concept of an “elven pastor” is definitely a first, but compatible with the overall vision. The editing and execution is that of a first-rate journeyman, nothing interferes with a reader’s enjoyment of the story.

My main quibble is the story isn’t a complete one; the characters seem to be limited to reaction against random plot points without overarching logic or theme. It may be that the exposition lacking here is fully explained in subsequent volumes, making sense of the many dangling threads and unexplained hints. I didn’t get the sense there is a contiguous adversary throughout the series, although there was one post-climax hook which was also unattributed. I’m generally a fan of this genre and enjoyed my reading of Balsam’s story. I do hope it evolves into something more in the next episode.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only)

“Skid – The First Chronicle”, by Keith Fenwick – Review

Keith Fenwick kicks off The Skidian Chronicles series with this introduction to the alien race known as Skid. The basic concept is that of a civilization so advanced its citizens don’t know how to do much of anything other than exist within it. Other authors have mined this idea for many years (examples include Asimov, Herbert, and even L. Ron Hubbard) but it still makes for an interesting read. The action starts with an existential crisis on Skid, their automated food supply systems are about to fail, so they decide to abduct some likely residents of Earth who can make it all better. Unfortunately, Skidians do not have the first clue of what they actually need. Regardless, in quick order, four solitary humans are snatched and the Skidian ship flees Earth once detected. Due to a series of early mishaps, two of the humans are dispatched almost immediately; leaving a female American travel consultant who was hiking in the woods on her way to a yoga class and an Australian, no .. (cough) I mean a New Zealander farmer with his three semi-working dogs as the sole hope of the Skidians.

Fenwick has fun with the stereotypes of both Kiwi and American, as well as the advanced-but-do-nothing Skidians. The book is well-written and easily creates the world of Skid for the reader. The pacing of the story could use some work, as things run on a bit 3/4 of the way through and the ending is definitely abrupt. There are many plot points left hanging, which I assume will be picked up by the balance of the series. Nonetheless I very much enjoyed the book and am definitely interested in seeing what’s next for the clueless Skidians.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only)

“White Oaks”, by Jill Hand – Review

Jill Hand has written a completely entertaining thriller which incorporates a sometimes comic view of family dynamics surrounding inheritance positioning within a ruling Southern family. I say “ruling” since we in the United States sometimes use extreme multi-generational wealth as a proxy for royalty and most of us know places where there are families so rich they literally can get away with murder. In White Oaks, the family patriarch assigns an illegal bucket list item for his four grown children to arrange and the fun begins. The twists, turns, betrayals, and daft-yet-plausible behavior combine into something you’ll want to read in one sitting.

The writing and craftsmanship is impeccable, and a distinct pleasure to read. White Oaks is one of those books to savor as skimming would miss too many wonderful, and snarky, observations. I recommend without reservation.

I purchased the paperback book directly from the publisher.

“Joe Coffin, Season One”, by Ken Preston – Review

This is one enjoyable read! Ken Preston combines the mob, old school vampires, the press, and a wide range of other characters to create a gritty story set in the United Kingdom. The writing is very tight and thoroughly coherent. Joe Coffin is the archetype of the large hard man with a tender heart, just what you want when vampires are involved. Someone in Joe’s world can identify evil much easier than routine law enforcement ever will. Joe doesn’t walk through things unscathed, but you get the sense he will be standing at the end of the day, even if he is missing a few parts in the process.

If you like an entertaining book written in an episodic format, this is highly recommended. The ending comes with a few dangling plot lines, but I presume they will be dealt with in the next episode, which I am about to acquire.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only)

“The Untold Tale”, by J. M. Frey – Review

The Untold Tale is an epic fantasy related through the eyes of Forsyth Turn, Lord of Lysse Chipping and secret spymaster to the King. He also happens to be the younger brother of a rather more extroverted hero Kintyre Turn; slayer of dragons, scourge of the evil Viceroy and his minions, who is always accompanied by his faithful sidekick (and biographer) Bevel. As Shadow Hand, notoriety is discouraged regardless, entirely in turn with Forsyth’s personality as an introvert.

The action begins when the Shadow Hand’s men rescue a woman who has been tortured by the Viceroy’s man Bootstrap. It soon becomes clear Lucy Piper (or Pip) isn’t from Forsyth’s world. Lucy seems to have strange insights into the mechanics of his world, greeting him by name when she regained consciousness. Forsyth has read of legends speaking of entities from beyond; Readers, second only to the Author itself who created the world and everything in it. Forsyth knows he must do whatever it takes to repatriate Lucy to wherever it is she truly belongs. He must fight the forces of the Viceroy, his glory-hogging brother, quests, and his own growing love for Pip to achieve her safe return.

I enjoyed The Untold Tale on a number of levels. At first, I’m reading it as a period fantasy and Lucy shows up with obvious anachronisms, which I initially attribute to poor writing having seen it all too often. J. M. Frey threw me a head-fake and I fell for it. I love it when that happens! Chastened, I read on to the end of a very compelling story. Frey injects some political correctness moralizing midway through but evenhandedly dials it back to where it is not off-putting for a reader. She also creates a second-half very complicated relationship situation which cannot resolve itself into a mostly happy ending without the use of a MacGuffin. Regardless of where you fall on resolution believability, it does engage thought on the topic and perhaps that was the entire point. I recommend The Untold Tale without reservation.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy through Veracious Readers Only!)

“Murphy’s Luck 3”, by Benjamin Laskin – Review

Murphy’s Luck 3 continues the adventures of Murphy Drummer, a one-man demolition derby of bad-luck or sole protector of the possible, depending on your point of view. Benjamin Laskin opens the story with Murphy’s CIA Elite Hippie Unit, Granola Team Six in-laws being captured by a small but scrappy 99th largest South American crime cartel. They pin their hopes on a black helicopter-flying friend Frank to come and save their patchouli-wearing backsides. Frank knows when he needs help, given the improbable odds, and just who to recruit; a man to whom odds mean nothing and a former supermodel-turned-assassin with a score to settle. Murphy comes along to protect the enterprise from the inevitable bad luck which follows him everywhere he goes. How will Murphy and the team rescue the in-laws, find the buried treasure, and make it back to Eureka, Kansas in time for daughter Phaedra’s birthday party? Will the cartel move up in the rankings and open an Adventure Bed & Breakfast?

Benjamin Laskin has crafted an extremely fun read, with recurring gags, wicked puns, witty dialog, and characters you could almost see. Frank reminded me most of the American President in Hot Shots – Part Deux, with all of his missing organs from past military engagements. The concept of a personal jinx field around an individual has been explored before, but never in so lighthearted and entertaining a fashion. Having a town basically quarantine Murphy and his similarly afflicted offspring seems entirely rational, given the alternatives. Plus, who doesn’t like to read stories of former supermodels who are now walking arsenals? Murphy’s Luck 3 will provide the laughs, bring your own oatmeal cookies!

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite