The Monster’s Wife by Kate Horsley

Set on a tiny island in the Scottish Orkneys, Kate Horsley’s The Monster’s Wife is a brooding and atmospheric sequel to Frankenstein, told from the perspective of the future bride of Frankenstein. Calling this novel either a sequel or a reimagining does Horsley a disservice. This is very much a gothic creation with its own identity and texture. At its heart is the friendship between two young women who find themselves drawn into the struggle between Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster.

The small island of Hoy is its own peculiar little world, and Horsley paints a lyrical and occasionally morbid portrait of island life. Oona is a wild, stifled young woman, doomed by the same illness that killed her mother, she lives her life in the shadow of her impending death, dreams of escape and the world beyond. May is her closest friend, the rock she clings too, but May is slipping away, and they find themselves drawn to the mysterious Dr. Frankenstein, becoming his accomplices. Their relationship takes several dark turns, as Oona fumbles her way towards understanding Frankenstein and his purpose for them.

The Monster’s Wife is a lyrical and touching debut. Horsley has created a gothic world of her own out of Shelley’s novel and allows the reader’s knowledge to haunt the story, as she slowly builds towards her tragic yet hopeful climax. Ambitious, moody, and deeply enjoyable.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

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Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson’s Slimy Underbelly is a comic monster mash up noir. Dan Chambeaux, more commonly known as Dan Shambles, is a zombie P.I. in the Unnatural Quarter dealing with cases ranging from a Troll Opera singer’s stolen voice, allegations of campaign misconduct between dueling weather wizards, and a budding mad scientists stolen inventions. Meanwhile there is a rampaging gang of garden gnomes and a tentacled villain named Ah’Chulhu (to which the usual response is “Gesundheit!”).

After reading a number of novels whose ambitions were laudable but whose reach exceeded their grasp, it is refreshing to read a novel that is aiming squarely for pulpy fun and succeeds. Dan is a zombie detective of the hard-boiled variety, but never descends into outright pastiche. Ah’Chulhu is, perhaps, a more outright Lovecraftian satire it is done with a loving and knowledgeable sense of fun. Anderson includes a number of references that range from the obvious to the obscure that shows an in depth knowledge of the genres he’s playing in.

Slimy Underbelly is a fast paced, exuberantly fun read, filled to the brim with monsters of every description, often just trying to run their business, or deal with unresolved mommy issues. This could easily have turned into an incoherent mess of references, but Anderson has walked the tightrope without ever loosing the sense of giddy fun. He clearly loved writing this book, and it shows.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

Drabble “Waiting for the Bus” Published on Speck Lit Today

Waiting for the Bus was published on Specklit today continuing my juxtaposition of the mundane, the fantastical, and the faintly absurd. It also forms a part of my recent obsession with trolls, but more about that later.

This is the third of 4 drabbles being published on SpeckLit over the next few months. The Snickerdoodle War was published on July 21st, and The Tourist on August 8th. “The Ogre Raid” will be published on September 17th.

BloodLight: The Apocalypse of Robert Goldner by Harambee K. Grey-Sun

 

BloodLight opens with a warning from the publisher. This is not, we are told, a Young Adult novel or a New Adult Novel. It is a work of Metaphysical Fantasy and is for readers who enjoy “stories that are surreal, cerebral, dark, and bizarre almost beyond all description.” Clearly, someone was worried the readers might get the wrong idea, so much so that they include this warning in both the blurb and in a specially inserted publishers note.

 

As it happens, I do enjoy surreal, cerebral, dark, and bizarre stories. That description is music to my ears. Nevertheless, for most of the story BloodLight resembled soothing so much as a Young Adult novel. Robert Goldner is a troubled young man. The only African American on his high school’s wrestling team, he is used to having to fight, to try and prove himself, not least to the memory of his dead mother who always considered him a mistake. Most of the narrative follows Robert as he tries to keep his head down, while his best friend lies in the hospital after a mysterious accident. The surreal aspects creep in slowly, as Robert begins to hallucinate and experience an almost existential identity crisis.

 

The novel is split into three parts and it is only in the final, and shortest one, that the metaphysical fantasy comes to the forefront and Grey-Sun begins to explain what has been happening. Robert goes on a metaphysical journey deep into himself and into the universe beyond. It is only here that Robert seems to have any agency.

 

BloodLight is a well written and deeply thought through novel. Harambee K. Grey-Sun has clearly put a lot of thought into his cosmology. The final part was the most interesting, but on the whole, the novel felt confused and a little unfocused. This may be because, it turned out, unexpectedly, to be the first part of a series. There was no indication of that until the end. With that in mind, the slow opening and set up becomes more understandable.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

The Darkest Side of Saturn by Tony Taylor

Tony Taylor spent many years working for NASA navigating Voyager, Cassini, Mars Polar Lander, Galileo, and Messenger throughout the solar system. His expertise and experience shines through in The Darkest Side of Saturn, an ambitious, engaging, occasionally satirical and profound exploration of science, faith, what in means to be human, and ultimately the nature of the universe itself.

In 1997 Harris Mitchel, a spacecraft navigator, and an astronomer, Diana Muse-Jones, discover an asteroid on an apparent collision course with Earth. Naming the asteroid ‘Baby,’ Harris and Diana ponder what to do with their discovery. Further calculations cast doubts on their prediction of impact, but Harris believes the risk is sufficient and determines to warn the world. His efforts to do so draw scorn and derision, but also minor celebrity, a growing number of followers, and the enmity of Rev. Dr. Ernest Farnsworth, a fundamentalist preacher. When radio personality, James Conland, attempts to capitalize on Harris and Farnsworth’s feud, Harris finds himself adopted as an unwilling cult figure, a doomsday prophet who only ever wanted to present the world with his scientific findings.

Through Harris, Taylor constructs a satirical look at the nature of science, religion, bureaucracy and culture, while ultimately providing a hopeful treatise on the nature of the universe itself. The Darkest Side of Saturn is ambitious, sometimes too ambitious for its own good. It tries for too much and can get lost in its own ambition. Nevertheless, it is full of fascinating concepts both social and scientific, and while it strains the bounds of credulity at times, it remains well grounded and in some place all too real. An unexpectedly thought-provoking novel that manages to earn its cosmological finale.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

Authority: A Novel by Jeff VanderMeer

 

My Review for the first novel in the trilogy can be found here.

Authority: A Novel is the second novel in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy. The first novel, Annihilation, chronicled the disastrous 12th Expedition into Area X, a region mysteriously cut off from the rest of the world where strange and terrible things have been reported. Authority picks up where the previous novel ended. In the aftermath, John Rodriguez, also known as Control, has been sent to figure out what went wrong. Control is a fixer, a government spy with family connections and a checkered past. He finds the Southern Reach organization in shambles filled with secrets and people as strange as the Area they study.

This novel is twice as long as Annihilation and builds the tension more slowly. While the first novel was claustrophobic even in a vast, transformed landscape, in Authority Control is enclosed in a scientific base under siege in strange and uncertain ways from without and within. Jeff VanderMeer creates a palpable sense of unease, a sense of incomprehensible answers just out of reach. Control’s failed attempts to grapple with the mysteries, and his deteriorating mental state are the backbone of the novel and its greatest strength. Control is clever but woefully and deliberately unprepared, contending with shifting agendas on the one hand and the secret of Area X on the other. He faces the growing realization that as he tries to solve the puzzle of Area X, it is trying to solve him.

Authority builds on its predecessor, deepening the mystery into new and unexpected places. VanderMeer, however, avoids answering any of the major questions. This makes for an engrossing story in itself, but leaves the final part of the trilogy with a tremendous task, one I hope VanderMeer is equal to. In fact, I’m not entirely certain how many answers the final novel will provide, or even how many it should. In the Southern Reach Trilogy Jeff VanderMeer has constructed a tapestry of the uncanny, too many answers might spoil the effect.

Magazine Review: Clarkesworld Issue 95, August 2014

Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion

Caroline M. Yoachim has created a moving, melancholy, and ultimately hopeful story set in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Yoachim follows the lives of five interconnected people as they come to terms with sporefall—aliens attempted terraforming of Earth. We are given glimpses of the new world, filtered through the survivors stories. Mention is made of ruined cities and caravans and one of the characters is intimately involved with alien negotiations. The frog-like aliens themselves are intriguing and just outside human comprehension. The ‘invasion’ is only hinted at as the story is more interested in a meditation on grief.

 Bonfires in Anacostia

Joseph Tomaras’ Bonfires in Anacostia is a near-future story of surveillance, repressed desires, cover-ups, and murder. Tomaras uses unusual points of view, such as surveillance cameras and even a futuristic table that listens and records, to emphasize the paranoia and draconian watchfulness of the world. References to current events as history help ground it in the possibilities of the present day. The characters, however, were not particularly engaging, and ultimately the story was an interesting and thought-provoking exercise but it never grabbed me.

 The Saint of Sidewalks

Kat Howard’s story is a meditation of faith, human nature, and the nature of miracles. Joan is a desperate young woman, who in a moment of weakness makes a prayer to the Saint of Sidewalks. She asks only for a miracle, and the result is not at all what she expected. Howard uses Joan’s experiences to examine what makes someone a saint, and why humans need to believe. Off-kilter and strange, the story nevertheless feels true. The highlight of the issue.

 The Rose Witch

James Patrick Kelley’s The Rose Witch is a dark and lyrical fairytale. Julianja was a great witch’s most promising apprentice, the only one allowed to tend the magic garden. The witch’s last charm ties Julianja to the quest of a strange man burdened by the curse of his ancestors. The resulting story is a note perfect character piece, full of depths, magic, and the power of choice.

 Seven Years from Home

Naomi Novik is probably most known for her Temeraire Series, essentially the Napoleonic Wars with dragons. This story, however, is the first piece I’ve actually read by her. It is a sci-fi story of clashing cultures and war crimes. The narrator recounts her history years later heavy with guilt, having paid the penalty for her crimes. The story’s greatest strength is world building, particularly of the alien Melidans with hints of larger galactic politics. It was occasionally rushed, and I was never quite able to connect with the characters, but it was well plotted and enjoyable.

Nevermore

Ian R. Macleod’s Nevermore is a tale of broken dreams, art and faded love in a utopian future of virtual reality. The world has become a sea of virtual realities, of ghosts uploaded and eternal. Virtual reality has become so commonplace that what we call reality is now “foreal” and reality means the virtual. Gustav is an artist, his days of greatness and relevance long behind him, who struggles to find meaning in art and in foreal. This is a meditation on what value art would have in such a world, and on what drives the artist.

Space Opera Noir — The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson

The Ultra Thin Man is a space opera noir following Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization as they attempt to unravel an interstellar conspiracy that stretches from the highest rungs of society to the terrorist Movement of Worlds, led by an alien giant, Terl Plenko.

Swenson effortless adapts a number of noir tropes to his twenty-second century setting. Dave Crowell could have stepped out of the pages of a Dashiell Hammett novel, appropriate given the title. The narrative style emulates hardboiled detective fiction without becoming pastiche or loosing sight of the futuristic setting. Indeed, this is a richly detailed interplanetary world, filled with aliens, terrorists, refugee camps, crashing moons, and the titular Thin Men. This combination of pitch perfect noir and genuine world building is often attempted, but rarely with this degree of success.

The mystery itself is engaging and suitably full of twists and turns. Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos split up to pursue congruent, ultimately connected investigations and this serves to keep the pace moving.

The Ultra Thin Man gestures towards deeper questions, especially with regards to the Thin Men and Brindos’ arc, but is content to remain within its comfort zone and be exactly what it is—an intelligent, fast-moving slice of sci-fi noir.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The Supernatural Enhancements is a ghost story, a paranormal mystery, and a treasure hunt. Cantero weaves his narrative out of journal entries, letters, notes, video footage, audio recordings, psychiatrist reports, and excerpts from books on ghosts and cryptology. This style is not for everyone, and can be initially distracting, but Cantero makes good use of the conceit to conceal and reveal information without it ever feeling overtly manipulative.

When the owner of Axton House, Ambrose Wells, commits suicide in precisely the same manner and at precisely the same age as his father before him, his second cousin, known only as A., finds himself the unexpected heir to an estate and family he never knew existed. With his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl, A. attempts to uncover a dark family secret. Writing daily to their confidant, Aunt Liza, they are confronted with a century old conspiracy, cryptic clues, mysterious gatherings, a missing butler, and rumors of ghosts and murder. Worst of all, A. is suffering terrible dreams, identical to those of his Uncle before his death.

The Supernatural Enhancements luxuriates in its atmosphere, and in the joys of puzzle solving and ghost hunting. The relationship between A. and Niamh is ambiguous yet strongly drawn. Other characters are less developed appearing and disappearing as needed. There are two central mysteries at the heart of the novel, and the most interesting and deeply rooted one is answered first, leaving the ending somewhat anti-climactic. It is, nevertheless, an atmospheric and engrossing gothic novel set in the recent past.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review