Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden – 5/5 Stars

Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

What’s it about?

From the blurb, and not necessarily from the collection of stories itself, Creepy Sheen (CS) describes that we are living in an alternative history in the 1980s, the Third World War, which has had an impact on the broadcast transmissions making their way through space, as we’re led to believe is usual, and now there is a response aptly described in the blurb: ‘At the head of Earth’s messages to the cosmos travelled the collective broadcasts from one atomic day in history … That transmission is Creepy Sheen.’

First impressions

I believed I was picking up a retro science fiction collection of stories based in the 1980s, possibly with bizarre or horror themes – just check out the cover. I assumed I knew what to expect of the time period, if only from books and media, and to some degree I was correct. Social and cultural attitudes among friends were different, and one may say more expressive or adventurous if we’re using CS as the template.

‘A perfect hiss erupts as Barney opens the drink with a shiny bottle opener. In one motion, he moves his head back, raising the bottle to take a cooling swig, an idealised silhouette against the shining white of the sign behind him.’

‘In outline they ingest the dark liquid and the brightness of the world glows, until gold turns to white and the heat of every particle lights them up in a burst of phosphorescence, the whiteness at the heart of existence tearing into their souls and remaking them anew.’

‘A distant and melodious bing bong echoed along the dusted walkways above. Starved ferns rusted, threatening to tumble and splinter under their own weight. The flatness of the mock marble seating attached to it in a warped triangle partially covered with drooping ornamental grasses, themselves in a process of steady decay.’

When a character checks her watch in the story Arcady, and not her phone, you feel an odd sense of displacement, a leaping back in time to when we had simpler gadgets, and when the desperation of life looked us in the face.

Just have a taster of the author’s choice of words: ‘And sighted a black truck … as it floated the roadway.’

There was a memorable scene in the same story mentioned above, in the arcade where the reader sees life how it is, with blinking lights and repeated tunes, but there is this disconnection and unreachable part of it that draws the character in and makes you question it. Do we live in these times? Why do we take our friends for granted? Why am I stood here in this arcade now? These questions almost make you feel that the strange circumstances that happen afterwards are the more normal ones.

Praise, criticism, and evaluation

With some stories I didn’t grasp the conclusion or the hidden meaning, if there was one in these ones beyond an alien-invading creepy sheen. This was the case in the stories Broken Wings, Tranquilizers at the Mall, Breakdown on a Synthesizer, and Liquid Crystal. We know something went wrong in the stories, but we’re not sure what. Despite this, the author has managed to make us easily imagine what it would be like when a crisis or two did happen in the 1980s and how the characters would respond to it.

With some stories, it took me a bit to see the link between the premise of the book and the culmination of the short story itself, such as in The Future is White and Infomercial for a Dying World. In retrospect, the way the premise was shown was excellent, saying no more than was necessary.

One of my favourite stories was Night Drive Drifter in a Bad Dream. The way this story starts! I found this story illustrated the creepy sheen premise in the most visual way, propelling the character into action and taking none of the creepiness out of the sheen, so to speak. You must read Hell Alley, also, in a story akin to Ghostbusters but with more violence, ugliness, and conspiracy than you’d imagine. I would be interested to learn what happened to the character Myra also, after her ordeal.

Overall, I’d say CS is a story that will take any expectations you had of it and slice it into pieces, leaving you with the uneasy feeling of past reminiscence, perhaps, of stepping into a world you’d thought you’d left but you’re forced to return to when on the run. It’s a collection destroyed by the realities of its … reliance on broadcast transmission, or social or cultural attitudes? I don’t say the last sentence with any certainty, but I do intend to compliment the collection as a whole in this paragraph. There is a sense of adventure or the surreal in some stories you may be familiar with from other works by Rebecca Gransden, and increasingly, there is the theme of disconnection, as we have in this collection: reaching out only to be transported to violence or a warped version of a distinctive time that advertised its rosiness but maybe hid uglier things.

As with all of Rebecca Gransden’s fiction, it’s worth your time to read!

Author Website

Trinity by David Wind – 3/5 Stars

Trinity by David Wind

Today I’m reviewing the third book in epic fantasy series Tales of Nevaeh, a series which I’m a fan of. Please also see my reviews for the first and second books in the series by clicking on the links at the bottom.   

The third book in Tales of Nevaeh, David Wind’s Epic Fantasy series, focuses a lot more on magical realism by taking paranormal psychic warfare to the next step. This opened speculative possibilities about what would be real unless psychic-warrior partners Areenna and Mikaal took action to prevent the Dark Masters’ conquest of Nevaeh. This is made difficult by the fact that both Areenna and Mikaal become increasingly distrustful of The Eight sorceresses and other grand supposedly benevolent natural forces, who they must rely on to prevail. The Dark Masters know who Mikaal and Areenna are and plan to use their fondness for one another against them both. However, what the Masters’ don’t know is that there is a mysterious third person giving the psychic-warriors the edge in battle that could well thwart their conquest of Nevaeh.

As with Born to Magic, the first book, Areenna and Mikaal must contend with a witch; this time the witch’s (Lessig) background and relative importance as an evil rising power is made clear at the outset. I liked the visions provided by The Eight, which showed what would happen if Lessig was tackled in different ways. Trinity is split into two parts, Book One and Book Two, the latter being where the adventure really began for me and it did so with astounding revelation of Nevaeh’s past and present. The last 25% was rife with raw anticipation, as the final battle looms and strategy meets counter-strategy. Through third-person omniscient point-of-view and ever reliable mutant-animal aoutems such as the flying Gaalrie; we experience the glorious battles and impending fate of Nevaeh. The extremely well-conceived epic battle at the end had excellent build-up and delivery of outstanding writing.

Criticism: The language ‘I know not how’, though sounding authentic, was done a bit too often and gave a stilted effect. Some common themes slowed the progression of the plot: the movements of the numerous characters and the devotion between Areenna and Mikaal sometimes didn’t represent change in their relationship. Entering forests, discovering deception, and then aiming for a resolution repeated often. Admittedly this could be because this is the third book in this series I have read and the themes are becoming very familiar. Born to Magic #1 and Dark Masters #2 had evil coupled with great journeys of discovery, but I felt Trinity was a psychic game of chess until the battles commenced.

Overall, there was much in Trinity to applaud. There was revelation about the state of Nevaeh, and possibilities about what evil plans could befall it as the forces of good and evil prepare for a final clash. I immensely enjoyed the final battle, which is comparable in impact to the one at the culmination of the Lord of the Rings. My reservations about Trinity were because of its focus on psychic powers and preparation than on adventure. However, if you’re into this series as I am then there isn’t a compelling reason to not read Trinity.

Born to Magic by David Wind #1 – 5/5 Stars – Review

Dark Masters by David Wind  #2- 5/5 Stars – Review

Earth – Last Sanctuary by Christian Kallias – 5/5 Stars

Earth Last Sanctuary Christian Kallias
(Universe in Flames #1)

Earth — Last Sanctuary is the first in a science-fiction space-opera series where pilot Chase is the main protagonist and must use his incredible piloting and strategic improvisation to survive the decimation of the Star Alliance by the Obsidian Empire. The immediate parallel to make is with Star Wars, but don’t let the terms put you off, for there were many resonating influences that shaped Earth – Last Sanctuary: Independence Day, Star Trek Original Series (in that there was a protective moralist deity); and maybe there were ideas borrowed from the Serenity film or Farscape series.

I liked the moral thread running through the novel, of letting go of money, fame, and lust for power and to embrace foremost the development of the human race through technology. This ideology was a prerequisite for eliminating poverty, to cure illness, and save the environment. Its idea does stem from the basis of putting the needs of the many above the needs of the few, but the author delivered this new ideology in a convincing way.

My analysis was extremely positive. I loved the connection between characters Chase and Earth pilot Sarah Kepler and the way Alliance technology was introduced in a simple and yet absorbing way. It made perfect sense why the Alliance would be as developed economically and militarily when compared with what Chase sees as “human recreational activities”, which involve movies, sex, and food. In this way Earth seems to have prioritised the development of entertainment. Because Chase’s point-of-view showed he didn’t at first understand human indulgences, and for all his similarities to humans in language and appearance he was emotionally detached. This made me empathise with the author’s message, seeing the setting as a bridge that must be crossed for human and humanoid happiness.

Minor criticism: there were a few instances in the final space battle that were reminiscent of the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars A New Hope, and a single line “They’re up to something, I can feel your presence now”, made me think I knew where the series was going, however the author dispelled such notions at the end.

The dogfights were astounding, the space battle strategy imaginative, and there was a conceivable chance either side, Alliance or Empire, could have prevailed. There were easily relatable characters, a writing style that makes otherwise complex terms easy to digest and understand. Some of the writing, especially when Aphroditis spoke, was so impassioned, I felt the words speak to the soul, the writing was that powerful. It was as if I was there! Don’t turn Earth – Last Sanctuary down if you see it anywhere. Actually, if you’re reading this review, download or order it now and begin reading. You won’t regret it.

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves – 5/5 Stars

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves by Jesse Baruffi

Vigorously entertaining science-fiction super-villain adventure parody that may at first seem like a cross between Naked Gun and Austin Powers, but with a serious and strong plot. In his astounding debut novel, author Jesse Baruffi shows us the ridiculous and far-fetched way heroes are presented, as inordinately stupid supermen who can brush any affliction aside and who mindlessly fight for democracy and freedom, defying natural laws, and of course being unfaithful to their girlfriends!

We have Otto Von Trapezoid, a mad scientist supervillain who is emotionally stunted and has a short temper that sometimes leads to inadequacy and poor short-term decisions. Otto’s personality archetype exaggerates the problems scientists cause when they don’t think while at the same time possessing devastating weaponry. There’s Esmerelda, a master thief who has comical martial arts reflexes, being more concerned with style and appearance, and she has a hilarious disregard for incongruity. While Otto must decide between emotions and drones, Esmerelda must contend with her nasty family.

When the villians meet during a particularly memorable dinner, it is to have a civilised conversation, while of course plotting to end one another’s lives. Otto’s failed attempts were funny because he was so agitated and awkward that he missed his mark and managed to casually thwart Esmerelda’s attempts to do away with him. The protagonist point-of-view focus was well-balanced as we see the developing enmity between both, and the story develops with amusing and crucial incidents that cover betrayal and of course their run—in with Jake Indestructible (no introduction necessary). The villains were imaginatively created; mirrors that deflect projectiles, remote controlled boomerang, ROPE (rocket-operated punching explosive), etc. The villains were not overly negative and when they were treacherous it was artfully done, not cynically, and splashed with inventive humour. Though the main traitor was obvious much earlier in the novel, the scenes were delivered with excitement and energy. There’s a serious adventure beneath the puns, jargon, and mocked clichés that is a battle between good and evil where the reader never really switches sides.

Criticism: I didn’t get all of the humour, or why some sub-characters were presented in the ridiculous way they were, such as Otto’s parents. It’s clear many of the jokes were about exaggeration, and as I continued to read and the main plot developed, I must have got used to the style and found much of it humorous. Also, I thought the distrust between Otto and Esmerelda wasn’t fully explored, even if they did occasionally question each other’s secrecy or motives.

Overall, you do not need to understand all the humour to experience this wildly entertaining read that glues our perceptions of heroes and villains into something original, compelling, humorous, layered, and with a plot that continued to evolve at just the right pace. Astounding!

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves on Goodreads

Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean – 5/5 Stars

Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean

Shadow of a Dead Star is science-fiction cyberpunk, set in a future America called Wonderland, where over-reliance on dark technology fuels society, and sexual and materialistic fantasies are prevalent. Commercial status even determines human rights: the population of Seattle is divided between poverty-ridden Old City, the tumultuous Verge, and the dazzling New City; where lights, advertisements, and simulations overload the senses. I was fully immersed in the opening scenes and the author’s technology of the future was concise and clear. There was no room for ambiguity. After 17%, the writing breaks free from minor rigidity, and then the investigation unfolds with tension.

Federal Agent Walken is the exception, or so he believes; he’s a man of flesh who distrusts the widespread implicit faith in machines. Walken must investigate a case of Princess Dolls, little girls modified into sex toys, a practice that infuriates him. When the Princess Dolls are hijacked, Walken is ordered to investigate dubious sources to trace their location. However, he must work alongside “Civilian” Protection (CivPro) officers: who are unsympathetic and uncooperative because corporate interests masquerade behind most civil and public services. All Walken has is his instincts; and they haven’t let him down yet… I easily sympathised with Walken’s remarkable point-of-view, and liked his tough-guy persona.

Shadow of a Dead Star is a terrifying glimpse into a world where individual independence and initiative has been made obsolete: doors with no handles; administrative workers physically connected to the machines they use; and soldier helmets with view-screens instead of visors. Body “branding” is commonplace. Indeed, faith in machines is absolute to the extent that Walken sees himself alone, apart, and distinct from everybody. For readers worried about the rapid technological invasion in the information age, Shadow of a Dead Star reads like a political statement: cyberpunk realism if you like. Expect a few familiar cyberpunk elements, such as brain-riding (hacking), virtual reality, and an “underground” movement. Many of the main and sub-characters appeared typical of cyberpunk, but with relief the author fast-forwards past all pretence.

The sudden injection of first-person thriller action in the latter half kept me enthralled; it was like a first-person shooter video-game. Don’t expect an average plotline either. Just when you think it’s going to lapse into predictability, it takes a sci-fi/horror twist that is so “out-there” that I was horrified, stunned, and yet fascinated because the conclusion made perfect sense. Shadow of a Dead Star concluded but it didn’t fully end, which is something that will no doubt be cleared up in the sequel. Overall, what an experience! What was life like before this meteor-impact of a novel?

Dark Masters (Tales of Nevaeh 2) by David Wind – 5/5 Stars

Dark Masters by David Wind
Dark Masters is an epic fantasy adventure sequel set in Nevaeh, the future of Earth’s western civilisation. It’s about young psychic-warriors Areenna and Mikaal, whose quest to save Nevaeh can only be achieved by a perilous passage to the Frozen Mountains to learn of an ancient secret. Much of Dark Masters followed a similar formula to its prequel Born to Magic, where Areenna and Mikaal are hunted by unseen or not easily perceived dark forces. These forces test their magical and physical defences, attempting to delay their quest long enough for the Dark Masters to invade. On their adventure, doubts about their abilities and purpose will surface, the most remarkable being why Mikaal has the psychic abilities of women.

In comparison with Born to Magic: David Wind has an increasingly strong grasp of Areena and Mikaal, their emotional and psychic connection, as well their role. High King Roth and High Queen Enaid were included, which was comfortingly familiar and also pleasingly different because they were thrust more often into the plot and action. I liked the greater focus on aouteums, which are like animals that have magical bonds with psychics and are telepathically communicated to, sometimes with an ‘asking’ for requests. It was a clever idea, and warmed them to me. There were some stylish sword-fighting scenes and skirmishes against enemy pawns. I especially liked the magical clashes between good and evil, which were visually atmospheric and convincing. Yet, I would have liked a bit more of this action throughout. Perhaps more so than Born to Magic, I found Dark Masters to have more emphasis on symbolism, with actual symbols and prophetic fore-tellings. In a way, I interpreted it as being that while religious extremism can be a pervasive force of evil, belief systems can unite the ‘good’ Nevaens through ancestry, common purpose, and tradition. Sometimes the storyline captured me so fully, that I forgot of its link to modern-day terrorism and extremism. The author must be applauded for a series of tales that read like they actually happened; they’re that believable!

When the reader learns more about the Dark Masters and of the origins of Nevaeh, the writing and adventure becomes absolutely sensational. As a reader, I was swept into the battle, and there was magic galore. David Wind sets a spectacular final scene, tying the characters, plot, battle, and the greater truth of Nevaeh into a solid, pulse-pounding finale.