Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review - Those Who Went Remain There Still by Cherie Priest

Those Who Went Remain There Still
Cherie Priest
Subterranean Press 2008
ISBN 978-1-59606-179-8
Fantasy/Horror/Historical Fiction
Signed, numbered edition (113/200)
Cover art by Mark Geyer
170 pages

“Those Who Went Remain There Still” is an Americana folk tale with a macabre and horrifying spin. It is, in essence, a tale of monsters, both real and imagined, human and… other, with elements of folklore, family history, and a feud that spans over ten decades. But it is much more. Bringing together components of family, local and national history, Priest has a knack for getting close to the characters and places that she creates. What’s more, she has the remarkable ability to make you feel close to them as well. In doing so she weaves a tightly knit tale with wonderful characters that live off the page.

The story shifts between the perspectives of one of the U.S.’s most enigmatic real-life trailblazers, Daniel Boone to a group of strong frontiersmen that are loosely drawn on the author’s own ancestors.

The year is 1775 and Daniel Boone and his crew of axmen are cutting a trail through the Cumberland Gap of Kentucky. But they’ve disturbed the nest or hunting grounds of something that is hateful, spiteful, smart, and mad as hell at them for trespassing. One night they are attacked by this strange flying creature (larger than a bear it reeks of death and ruin) and a single man goes missing. Every few nights the creature returns and every few nights another man disappears. In a subsequent attack the beast is injured and Boone and a volunteer head off into the dark forest to finish the job. After battling and killing the beast they dump the body into a nearby cave.

One hundred years later the Coys and Manders are summoned back to their home town after the death of the eldest family member. Six men, three Coys and three Manders, are chosen to enter the “Witches’ Pit” a cave where the last will and testament of the deceased patriarch has supposedly been hidden. Choosing three men from each clan the deceased tries to quell the feud posthumously by forcing the two clans to cooperate together to locate the will. What the six chosen men don’t know is that Boone and his axmen did not completely finish the job they started and something wicked, evil, angry and hungry is waiting for them in the depths of the cave.

While horror is not one of my favorite genres and only a very few good stories have held my attention in the past this folk tale was written so beautifully and with such an ear for the historical folklore and myths of the Kentucky mountains that I could not put it down. In a way it reminded me of Orson Scott Card’s “Alvin Maker” stories which I enjoyed immensely but there was something different about “Those Who Went…” Priest shows a great deal of pride in her heritage and her characters are believable, earthy, rugged and confident individuals. And, there is magic… or the unknown woven throughout. Perhaps because Priest includes fictional representatives of her own family it is clear to me that this was a subject she really cares about. Perhaps, more authors should do the same. All in all, this is a fantastic work of speculative fiction. No finer words of praise might be said than, “I’ve become a fan!”

A word about the included Chapbook – The small Chapbook, “Those Who Went Remain There Still (How it Really Went Down.)” which was included with the purchase of the signed version of the hardcover of the same name, is a short essay concerning the author’s use of verbal family history woven into American history and the creative imagination used to write this wonderful piece of (too) short fiction. Using verbal family tales as a baseline the author mixes components of the fictitious life of Daniel Boone with the fear of darkness and deep caverns, a century’s old family feud, the possible cooperation of six very different men, and creatures not quite of this earth. An interesting and informative addition to the text.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Review - Desolation Road by Ian McDonald

Desolation Road
By Ian McDonald
PYR (An imprint of Prometheus Books)
Published 2009
ISBN 978-1-59102-744-7
Trade Paperback (Reprint)
Cover Illustration by Stephan Martiniere
363 pages

Too long out of print Ian McDonald's “Desolation Road” is superb, highly entertaining science fiction and an exceptional first novel.

McDonald is frequently compared to many of the great classic Science Fiction writers, and for good reason, his style and creative devices are poetically unique. Elements of Walter Miller's “Canticle For Lebowitz,” China Meiville’s unique world building, and a remarkable similarity to Fred Pohl and Robert Heinlein’s storytelling skills are evident. Ian McDonald is, in my estimation, one of our most talented Science Fiction novelists and “Desolation Road” is the best Science Fiction I’ve read in some years.

“Desolation Road” where time begins and the road ends.

Teraforming, time travel, living machines, assassins, chronokinetics, a powerful evil corporation, politics, mystical powers, robots, super-tech weapons, labor strikes, and an assortment of the most amazing characters ever created McDonald is ready to steal the spotlight from the classic Science Fiction writers of yesteryear. A unique voice in an ocean teaming with competition McDonald will, in my estimation, stand the difficult test of time.

Bizarre characters like the mysterious greenperson; Dr. Alimantando, the time traveling founding father of the town of Desolation Road; Persis Tatterdemalion, the now grounded, once high flying, stunt woman, and her Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar; and Adam Black’s Wonderful Traveling Chataqua and Educational ‘Stravaganza, to name just a few, will draw you in. You’ll be dismayed each time you have to put it down. Expect to stay up late reading this one! “Desolation Road” includes and provides insight into most of the basic themes of great Science Fiction but far more than that it is creative beyond your wildest imagination.

Thanks PYR for bringing back this out of print gem!

5 out of 5 stars

More information about Ian McDonald can be found here at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_McDonald_(author) and here at the author’s LiveJournal site “Cyberabad” http://ianmcdonald.livejournal.com/

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Book Review - The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

The Secret History of Moscow
By Ekaterina Sedia
Sony eBook version
Prime Books
ISBN 978-0809572236
November 2007
617 (eBook) pages

“The Secret History of Moscow” is the story of a magical underground alternative world that lies just beneath the surface of Moscow. It is a mysterious place that is populated by gods, legends, and characters drawn from Russian literature and fairy tale.

When people in and around Moscow begin to disappear it becomes the task of four unlikely heroes to unravel the mystery, discover their whereabouts, and save them. An out of work painter, the unstable sister of one of the missing women, a gypsy, and a paper pushing policeman join forces with some of the oddest characters of Russian myth, folklore, and legend to help solve the mystery.

A very enjoyable read with mystery, myth, mayhem, and magic as the central plot devices Sedia weaves an interesting story that pulls from Russian history many of its darkest legends and characters. Mix in a bit of the Russian Mob, a few mythological gods, and a magic spell or two and you have "The Secret History of Moscow." Entertaining and fun!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Classic Book Review - Deathworld by Harry Harrison

By Harry Harrison
Stanza eBook version (iPhone)
Classic Science Fiction

“Deathworld” has all the elements of a classic Science Fiction great and lives up to its name; spaceships, high tech weapons, psychic communication, battles, intrigue, action, and bug-eyed monsters. But more than all this it is a legendary story.

First penned in 1960 “Deathworld” is typical of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The hero is larger than life, the antagonist(s) are creatures right out of Stephen King's imagination, and as an added bonus it contains one of the deadliest alien planets ever conceived.

Harrison, unfairly, receives a lot of bad reviews for his style and is sometimes rated as a “B” Science Fiction novelist. While not as popular as many of his contemporaries Harrison has something that many do not. An exceptional sense of humor! Read a few of the Stainless Steel Rat books and you’ll know what I mean.

“Deathworld” was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1961 and lost to “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller which is another excellent read.

After almost fifty years it still lives up to expectations and delivers great entertainment.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, September 07, 2009

Book Review - Gunpowder by Joe Hill

By Joe Hill
PS Publishing
ISBN 978-1-848630-14-7
81 pages (Novella - 22,600 words)

Gunpowder is an aptly named unstable planet out on the galactic fringe. It is a cold, bleak, desolate place selected for terraforming. The technicians, however, are not your run-of-the-mill scientists but a group of not-quite-human children who have had their DNA manipulated. They have been created to breathe and live in the atmosphere without mechanical means and, more importantly, they have psychic abilities that will help them achieve their goal. But they are outcasts from Earth and the hope is that they may one day save it from a future devoid of resources.

Then war comes to the galaxy and the boys’ unique psyforming capabilities are enlisted by a mysterious stranger sent by the military. With nothing more than the power of their imaginations they can create the raw materials for missiles powerful enough to destroy moons. They can dream into existence spacecraft strong enough to fly through a supernova without being damaged. They can give the universe a military force so powerful that no one would dare defy it. And the military wants them as weapons. The question is… do they want to become soldiers for a society that has cast them off?

And one child, the deficient boy, without a psyforming ability and with the word VOID imprinted inside his glowing eyes, holds the key. What sacrifice might he make… for love?

Joe Hill’s first published venture into the realm of Science Fiction rates a resounding YES! If Gunpowder is a prologue to more stories set in this same multi-verse I can only hope that they are published soon.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Book Review - The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s
Kage Baker
Subterranean Press
ISBN: 9781596062504
Publication Date: June 30, 2009
122 pages
Illustrated by J. K. Potter

“The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” is a Victorian steampunk murder-mystery with characters and locations reminiscent of a Dickens novel. Nell Gwynne’s is a high-class bordello in London that caters to Parliament, nobility, and the aristocracy. While servicing these distinguished men the women of Nell Gwynne, a highly unusual group of whores, attempt to uncover and collect political secrets for use by their employer the GSS, a super-secret scientific agency that protects the Crown.

While attending a diner party held by a British nobleman, Lady Beatrice and her fellow ladies-of-the-evening, uncover a scheme to sell anti-gravity technology to the highest bidder. After the various groups retire to their bedrooms for a night of frolicking the host is found murdered and the women take it upon themselves to investigate. As well they should. Mrs. Corvey, the madam, and her stable of working girls are no ordinary whores. They are strong, smart, capable, and not above kicking some high-brow ass when needed.

This compact and well-written novella is filled with intrigue, turn-of-the-century dialogue, steampunked technology, murder and mystery and sets up a universe that will hopefully become a recurrent one in Baker’s universe of strange and exciting times and places. An enjoyable, entertaining, and quick read I, for one, hope to see more of “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” soon.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeastern Wisconsin

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Book Review - The Affinity Bridge - George Mann

The Affinity Bridge
(A Newbury and Hobbes Investigation)
George Mann
Tom Doherty Associates
ISBN: 0-7653-2320-6
334 pages

“The Affinity Bridge” is an action-adventure steampunk mystery of the first order. George Mann combines Victorian era dialogue, a murder mystery, zombies, automata, dark magic, the macabre act of brain switching, and dirigibles to tell a truly interesting and exciting story. In the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, and The Avengers, “The Affinity Bridge” introduces the team of Sir Maurice Newbury and Ms Veronica Hobbes, agents of the Crown (Scotland Yard). Together, they are enlisted by the Queen to discover the cause of an air balloon crash and the unknown identities of the victims. Mann weaves an intricate tale of mystery and adventure whilst visiting the seedier sides of Victorian London and manages to write it in such a way that you believe you’ve traveled to an alternative Victorian history such as you’ve never seen the likes of before. The intrigue, dialogue and plot are first rate and you’ll even be surprised by events a time or two. Well worth the time and money spent!

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeastern Wisconsin