Category Archives: Science Fiction

Review: Scarecrow Has a Gun (Michael Paul Kozlowsky)

If you have the sudden urge to spend a couple of days hashing out the philosophical questions surrounding your memory, how it’s perceived by you versus other people, and how a not quite accurate memory can affect you, you’re in luck: there’s tons of that in this book. If you prefer to have those questions asked, but not in a drill to the center of the earth way, and to read a science fiction novel (as this is also categorized) wrapped around this, you may be slightly disappointed. I was.

First, the length. This book would have worked much better as a novella, in my opinion. There are pages in the book that could have easily been jettisoned, as they were a bit echo-ey of things already discussed, and it caused a drag in multiple places.

Second, the premise: our protagonist Sean works as a drone in a large, nameless company doing some kind of video/graphic production. Is this important? It could have been, if there was some exploration of how Sean, with a graphic-centered life at work, may have been able to remember things more accurately than someone without that focus. This was not explore, however.

The precise: There is a group of employees of this company called The Widowers Club, summoned once a year to the boss’ office. All members of the group, as the name describes, are men. I’m not sure why Mr. Ulger, the boss, only selected men for his little games, where he would tell the group to perform some inane stunt – running through a glass window, for instance.

One year, Sean, who has been summoned for several years but who has never “won”, actually does win. His prize is a box contraption with two lines that attach to the temples. This box then shows the memories of the person hooked to it. Sean has been trying his hardest to remember an attack that leaves his wife dead and Sean unable to recall the exact events surrounding the attack. Now is his chance, but he finds what he remembers doesn’t jibe exactly with what the machine is telling him. My question: why does he simply assume that Ulger is telling him the truth and the machine is more accurate than what he himself remembers?

The rest of the book proceeds with Sean trying to get to the bottom of the attack, discovering along the way that nearly all his memories have that same unsettling wrongness about them. We also meet his fiancee Hayley is entirely unlikable, and his son not much better. There’s also a female crossing guard with some serious issues. I get that she’s meant as a sort of humor device, given the inappropriate things she says and the gossip she dishes, but she comes across as annoying and doesn’t serve as much of a break from the overall rather dense story.

Eventually Sean makes it to the truth of his wife’s death, and there’s an ending that seems rather far-fetched, given Ulger’s penchant for knowing absolutely everything Sean is doing.

There’s a real lack of the science fiction component, as it isn’t clear just how the box works, or really anything about it, other than it’s the type of science fiction that exists just because. That is, it’s like warp speed in virtually any science fiction: it is simply something that exists in this universe, and doesn’t require many pages of explanation. I would have liked something, though, even just a little. A good example of how something exists in a universe without going on for many chapters about it is the Epstein drive in The Expanse books.

The philosophical question is interesting, but in this particular book it really brought things to a halt when I hit some of the denser pages of that discussion. I’d have liked to have seen some discussion of how Ulger saw this as a way to make whoever used the machine wealthy beyond belief – this wasn’t really explained, since the machine only looks backwards, not forward (so one might invest in an invention or company one might remember reading news about, only to find with a forward-looking machine that said invention or company was a bonafide winner, and one might invest in the thing/company in their current moment in the timeline, for instance). It’s easier to believe Ulger when he talks about mind control, as the machine could be programmed to serve up the memories Ulger wanted someone to believe about their past memories.

Overall, I’m rather neutral about the book, so it’s three stars out of five from me.

Thanks to Imbifrex Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Expected publication date: August 2022.

Review: The Edge of Yesterday (C.J. Birch)

As a rule, I try to avoid science fiction that involves time travel. Time travel gets very messy, and most authors don’t think enough about the implications on a character’s own timeline when moving those characters back and forth through time. Case in point: a recent movie on one of the streaming services that sent soldiers back in time to gather a group of people to come fight in the future (of those soldiers) against something. I didn’t watch it because my immediate thought was: why not just bring technology backwards or give it to the people in that time, a la Star Trek IV’s transparent aluminum?

In any case, I’m glad I took a chance on this book, because it is fantastic.

Hundreds of years into the future, people 0n Earth are living far underground to avoid detection by drones. Most live a hand to mouth existence, there is no sun, no plants, and no fun. It seems nanobot technology ran amok (Terminator-style) and humans went into hiding.

Using AI as a helper, they’ve figured out how to use time travel, and they send people back to the past with specific tasks to perform to try to avoid having this particular occur, based on percentages determined by the AI. I could see a problem with this.

Easton Gray is selected to be a level five in her department: the level fives are the people who slip into the past, perform their task, and then hit the recall option on the computer implanted in their forearm. Her sister Calla is the only family she has left: her mother died when she was 12, and her father died at some undetermined date along the way. Calla has been promoted to the survey crew – a very dangerous job in itself – but Easton doesn’t want her to take it because of the danger. They argue a bit about it, and Easton tries to deal with Calla’s boss to move her to something else, only to find someone higher on the food chain has already done this. As it turns out -and as to be expected -it isn’t just actions in the past that have consequences.

Easton makes the jump. Her task: find and kill Zach Nolan, who is deemed responsible for the nanobots raging out of control. She finds herself in a field, naked, near a farmhouse. When the residents leave, she pops in, steals some clothes, and she’s on her way. Eventually, she finds and presumably breaks into the veterinary office of Dr Tess Nolan.

It turns out Tess has come to live in this rural town after leaving Vancouver and a rather crazy woman she was dating. The local vet was retiring, so she bought the practice. Tess happens to come into the office, and patches up Easton, who refuses to go to the hospital.

They meet again around town. Easton continues gathering information, as the people coming from the future are dropped in near when their target(s) can be acquired, never an exact date. Tess and Easton get to know one another, and they’re quite taken with one another. But Easton knows that not Zach alone needs to die: his discoveries go to Tess when he dies, and she is then responsible for the dystopian nightmare in the future. Easton arranges it, then sits back.

Only to find herself dropped into the field again. Something has gone wrong, and when that happens, they’re just dropped right back into the same place to try again.

Easton goes through a few of these iterations, increasingly having issues with not wanting to kill Tess, even though she knows one death could save billions.

But then a mystery visitor shows up, and the entire mission is turned on its head. I won’t go further than that except to say: the explanation makes complete sense, and confirmed one of my suspicions. The action picks up as hunters arrive to chase them, and the outcome is…well, you’ll have to read it.

It’s a great read, even if you’re not particularly into science fiction. If you do like science fiction, like me, I think you’ll find both the technological and philosophical issues around time travel adequately explained, and better, to make sense.

Five out of five stars. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Constance – Constance #1 (Matthew FitzSimmons)

Constance (Con) D’Arcy is one of two people in her family who have escaped a dismal existence in Texas. The other is her aunt Abigail Stickling, a brilliant scientist who founded PalinGenesis in order to clone humans.

There is a lot of discussion both here and later about the treatment of clones and ethics. Should clones be treated the same as their originals? Do they have the same rights? Should they have access to the entire life of their original? There are, of course, the usual people who want to hunt down and kill clones, presumably before any signal makes it back to PalinGenesis to pull out another and stuff that person’s memory in place.

Abigail commits suicide by flinging herself off the building. As she suffered from a genetic health issue that prevented the cloning process from working, we’re told she has no clone on standby.

For Con’s part, she wound up in a band, led by her boyfriend. One night, tired from the rigors of the touring road, Con’s boyfriend crashes their van. Two of the five members die, her boyfriend is left in a permanent vegetative state, Con suffers a knee injury, and the last member (also a woman) survives without major injury.

Con’s aunt has built PalinGenesis into a cloning shop, catering to the uber wealthy – who can afford to have their minds downloaded every 30-ish days at the company’s HQ and have a clone soaking in case of sudden death – and also to Con, beneficiary of her aunt’s offer of a clone for each family member. Con is the only one who accepted, and goes to PalinGenesis dutifully about every month to download her head.

Something goes terribly wrong, however, and Con wakes up 18 months later, an entire year and a half missing. What this means first, of course, is that her original has died. And her original died without doing regular downloads. We know Con is a clone as she has no indicators of a lived life: no tattoos, no scarring on her knee.

We also know that Dr Brooke Fenton is breaking a ton of protocols to wake up Con and get her out of the building. But she does, and send Con out into the NYC night with just the clothes on her back an the things she came into the facility with. This is where the book veers heavily into mystery territory.

Con starts investigating her own death and discovers some interesting things along the way, including paid bad actors and an amazing admission from the leader of the protest group, a billionaire whose kids want to declare him dead (since he died and was cloned) so they can inherit, a fiance who is heartbroken, an old friend with a new life, differing stories as to Abigail’s genius or sociopathy, and she comes face to face with a certain someone not once, but twice, and with another person who has risen from the ranks of the dead.

The ending felt a bit rushed, and we had a villain explaining things, but it’s an enjoyable read. If you like purity in your genre, this ain’t it. But if you’re okay with your science fiction and your mystery mixing things up, this might be right up your alley/space lane.

Four out of five stars.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Echoes of Fate – Echoes Trilogy #3 (Cheryl Campbell)

A fine closing out of the Echoes trilogy.

After returning home from three years of a diplomatic mission, Dani is ready for some downtime. She finds that Catherine Houston, in command in Maine, has allowed her desire for more power lead her to murky and dangerous waters. Aunt Hattie, along with Mary and Dani, sabotage a lab where normal humans are being injected with Echo DNA, to try and create hybrid humans who can regen after being killed, as Dani does, and how the Wardens (the bad guys) do.

Speaking of the Wardens, the CNA is looking to finish them off and drive them the areas of Canada they’ve taken. Houston got lucky when Dani showed up in Boston and the fight went the CNA’s way, with Houston getting the credit for the win, but since then, her record has been rather mediocre, which is slowing her down from further rising in the ranks.

When they’re looking over the best place to attack the Wardens, Dani is not in agreement with Houston’s plan, and suggests an alternate target and strategy. However,they have no current information on enemy strength in that area. General Ramos agrees with the plan, and decides to lead a recon team himself – an exceptionally bad idea.

It’s also Oliver’s birthday, and although he is not yet of age, Houston decides there has been an error in his records, and that he’s a year older than he is. She orders Oliver and three other teens to be taken to boot camp, and from there, to be thrown into battle.

Meanwhile, there’s been no word from Ramos, and he is presumed missing. Dani is sent to go after him, along with Mary, Miles (who she’s been sleeping with for the past three years, after her last regen), and two others.

That sets up the remainder of the book quite well, and I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers. I’ll say this: there were a few things that happened that I never thought would happen, and that takes some guts for an author to do, so kudos to Ms Campbell for that.

The only ding I’m giving is for some extended passages of introspection that slow down the action a bit. Even with that, I’m still giving it five out of five stars. It’s a terrific series.

Thanks to Sonar Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Complex (A.D. Enderly)

Complex is a complex (get it?) work. based on the premise that in a dystopian world set sometime in the future. Civilization has basically collapsed, and now corporations have formed their own city nations called Complexes, which have their own “citizens”, akin to serfs toiling away and being used for the corporations’ purposes, assigned to whatever job the corporation deems fit for the citizen to have. Anyone not attached to a Complex and who does not have a high enough social score lives in Legacy, a remnant of the loss or degraded civilization.On the Legacy side, people rarely work, and receive money each month to enable them to buy food and do whatever else they need to do.

On the Complex side, forces are working to generate a war between the Complexes and Legacy, as they believe, cynically, that recruitment for the Complexes.. There are conspiracies galore, double crossing, many fights, and an epidemic that threatens to run out of control.

The premise is a good one, and the story is well told. There are a lot of characters introduced right off the bat. The point of view shifts between these characters with every chapter, and keeping track of all of them can sometimes be tough, requiring flipping back to recall just who everyone is. The world itself is done *very* slowly and does take some getting used to. Likewise, as the end rushes toward all the characters, the world is quite disorienting, and sometimes comes so quickly, it’s difficult to understand how the various levels interact with one another.

Beyond that, I liked the book. All of the POV characters were drawn out nicely, and their various motivations were not difficult to understand. The tech – it is an SF dystopia, after all – was good, and the fact all citizens had AIs iimpanted in them was intriguing. The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, something that isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, so just be warned on that point.

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Luminary Media an NetGalley for the review copy

Review: Echoes of Darkness – Echoes Trilogy #2 (Cheryl Campbell)

This is the second book in a series, but never fear – it works fine as a standalone and enough details are dropped in to understand where things stand.

The Big Bad Dude, Rowan apparently is very invested in capturing Dani, the main character. So invested, in fact, that he sends some Echoes to attack the caravan she’s in, heading back to the main base. Dani survives, as does Mary and a couple of others, and eventually they make their way back to base.

Echoes – of which Dani is one – are self-healers. They can die, but they will regenerate unless you do something drastic: kill them again as they’re regenerating, or give them a death that blows apart their bodies in some way, like decapitating them.

We get a lot of days in camp in this one – training, scenarios, that sort of thing. After one of their own – Oliver, a young man – is kidnapped, Dani and co go after him to get him back, heading to Boston after being forbidden to do so by the base commander. But the commander, knowing they were going to do so anyway, puts pressure on her teams to finalize their new secret weapon.

The battles are excellently done, although I had to question Rowan’s “leadership” of his teams in his quest to get to Dani. Perhaps more motivations for the drama between them is covered in the first book.

Overall, well-written. it could be a tad tauter in a couple of places, but none of those were show-stoppers. At the beginning, Dani is obviously attracted to Mary, but after getting regenerated, suddenly has the hots for Miles, another member of Team Good Guy. I get it – the B in LGBTQ stands for bi, after all, but I’m a little disappointed with this, given that it seems Mary and Oliver are Dani’s foundation of a sort.

The book sets itself up nicely for another book in the series. If nothing else, I’m going to read the next one to see if Rowan gets what’s coming to him.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to Sonar Press and NetGalley for the review copy.