Thursday, April 30, 2015

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

(pb; 1953)

From the back cover:

"The last generation of Mankind on Earth.

"Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. They are manned by the Overlords. . . mysterious creatures from an alien race who soon take over control of the world.

"Within fifty years, these brilliant masters have all but eliminated ignorance, disease, poverty and fear. Then suddenly this golden age ends. . . and the end of Mankind begins!"


Childhood's End is a superb, thoughtful and genre-engaging (and often off-beat) take on the end of the human species. It spans a hundred years of the fictive last days of our kind, with some surprising -- sometimes disturbing, sometimes warm -- turns and notions (as illustrated and voiced by characters, Overlords and men), often spiced with Clarke's wry humor. There is little physical violence shown in Childhood, though it is mentioned in passing, so those looking for action-flick science fiction should look elsewhere.

Those who have read Clarke's Space Odyssey quadrilogy may spot Childhood's plot and thematic similarities with the those books (though the two storylines possess distinctive and entertaining variables). This adds -- for this reader, at least -- to the zest of Childhood: it reads like an author having good-natured fun with a previously published theme. That said, this is not (directly) linked to the Space Odyssey series.

This is an excellent novel, one worth owning.


The resulting three-episode miniseries is scheduled to air on the Syfy television channel in 2015.  Nick Hurran directed it, from a teleplay by Matthew Graham.

Charles Dance played Karellen. Mike Vogel played Ricky Stormgren. Ashley Zukerman played Jake Greggson. Jacob Holt played "Young Jake". Lachlan Roland-Kenn played Tom Greggson. Hayley Magnus played Amy. Benedict Hardie played Vindarten.

Colm Meaney played a thus-far unspecified character.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

(2009: second novel in the Agent Leo Demidov trilogy)

From the inside flap:

"Soviet Union, 1956. Stalin is dead, and a violent regime is beginning to fracture -- leaving behind a society where the police are the criminals and the criminals are innocent. A secret speech composed by Stalin's successor Khruschev is distributed to the entire nation. Its message: Stalin was a tyrant. Its promise: the Soviet Union will change.

"Facing his own personal turmoil, former state security officer Leo Demidov is also struggling to change. The two young girls he and his wife, Raisa, adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the death of their parents. They are not alone. Now that the truth is out, Leo, Raisa, and their family are in grave danger from someone consumed by the dark legacy of Leo's past career. Someone transformed beyond recognition into the perfect model of vengeance."


The political is once again personal in this follow-up to Child 44. Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa are not only struggling with the tensions of living within a society where it is understood that relationships bear a fifty-percent chance of denouncement (meaning torture, imprisonment and death, or worse, being sent to a gulag, a prison camp) but the fact that one of their adoptive daughters (Zoya) is openly courting getting arrested via her rejection of Leo (who was present when her parents were brutally killed), her public denouncements of Stalin and other actions.

Zoya's actions place the Demidov family -- including her younger sister, Elena -- in grave danger, because State Security forces believe that where there's one rotten apple there must be more, even -- especially -- if the head of that family is the head of the homicide squad, an entity that is inherently offensive to many (after all, there is no murder in paradise, only foreign/Main Adversary* agents seeking to tear it down).

Secret, like its source story, is a cinematic-vivid work, with its no-wasted-scenes, editing and its effective, sudden (sometimes surprising) flashes of tenderness at the unlikeliest of moments or between the unlikeliest of people. Also, like Child 44, it is a conscious, if fictionalized, account showing the historic and political evolution of Russia, as it, on a larger scale, struggles with the changes and inherent harshness built into its system.

What sets Secret apart from its source novel is that Secret has a lot more action scenes. While Child 44 had its share of violence, it read like a bloody drama; Secret still has drama, but its pacing and edits make it read like an action novel.

This is an excellent and breakneck-paced book, one worth owning. Followed by Agent 6.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Demons by John Shirley

(pb; 2000, 2002)

From the back cover:

"In a future uncomfortably close to present day, the apocalypse has surpassed all expectations. Hideous demons roam the streets in an orgy of terror, drawing pleasure from torturing humans as sadistically as possible. Ira, a young San Francisco artist, becomes involved with a strange group of scientists and philosophers desperately trying to end the bloody siege. But the most shocking revelation is yet to come."


Demons is one of most original and engaging world-in-bloody-mayhem novels I have read. Written in a thoughtful, satirical and wry manner, Shirley's work weaves Seventies horror/science fiction elements (Satanism and psychic phenomenon), splatterpunk ickiness, timely political and corporate events and entities, characters that are worth rooting for, as well as an entertaining tale scope that goes beyond -- transcends -- the usual 'everything's gone to hell' storyline by adopting a fresh and distinctive take on its events and characters. This is an excellent speculative fiction/horror book, one worth owning.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Haunted by Sommer Marsden

(eBook; 2015: erotic novella)

From the back cover:

"Two people lost and alone in life searching for answers…

"One haunted amusement park with a dark history…

Maddox visits abandoned sites to take photographs and figure out his future. He haunts the places that are monuments to the way he feels inside. Stark, empty, raw. And Olyvia searches for answers to her own painful loss by hunting ghosts. Trying to comfort herself by seeking proof of an afterlife.

"Maddox and Olyvia recognize kindred souls in one another. But a chance to fully explore their connection is a luxury they may not have. There’s a ghost stalking Screamland hell-bent on revenge. And it’s targeting them."


Haunted is an entertaining, mood-effective (romantic, lusty and spooky) read that is not only sexy, but smart, with engaging writing and engaging characters whose past tragedies are reader-hooking and emotional but not lust-simple or bathetic. The storyline probably won't surprise you, but Marsden's overall excellence as an author and the sometimes-humorous, always-on-the-mark dialogue renders any criticism of the storyline moot. If you're looking for an all-around worthwhile romantic, atmospheric and mature (in multi-layered senses of the word) work, Haunted fits that bill.

This novella is available on the Amazon site and Smashwords (which has more format options than Amazon), as well as other sites.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

(hb; 2008: first novel in the Agent Leo Demidov trilogy)

From the inside flap:

"Stalin's Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of its fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals.

"But in this society, millions do live in fear. . . of the State. Death is a whisper away. The mere suspicion of ideological disloyalty -- owning a book from the decadent West, the wrong word at the wrong time -- sends millions of innocents into the Gulags or to their executions. Defending the system from its citizens is the MGB, the State Security Force. And no MGB officer is more courageous, conscientious or idealistic than Leo Demidov.

"A war hero with a beautiful wife, Leo lives in relative luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition has been to serve his country. For this greater good, he has been arrested and interrogated.

"Then the impossible happens. A different kind of criminal -- a murderer -- is on the loose, killing at will. At the same time, Leo finds himself demoted and denounced by his enemies, his world turned upside down and every belief he's ever held shattered. The only way to save his life and the lives of his family is to uncover this criminal. But in a society that is officially paradise, it's a crime against the State to suggest that a murderer -- much less a serial killer -- is in their midst."


Child is an excellent and thrilling novel, with relatable characters (who are realistic in their mix of darkness and light), its historic and Russian milieu, as well as its fictionalized/time transposed use of real-life child murderer Andrei Chikatilo. Not only that, there is romance in this harsh tale, which is sometimes tender (often at unexpected moments).

Great read, this -- followed by The Secret Speech.


The resulting film is scheduled for April 17, 2015 stateside release. Daniel Espinosa directed the film, from a screenplay by Richard Price.

Tom Hardy played Leo Demidov. Noomi Rapace played Raisa Demidov. Fares Fares played Alexei Andreyev. Jason Clarke played Anatoly Tarasovich Brodsky. Gary Oldman played General Mikhail Nesterov. Tara Fitzgerald played Inessa Nesterov.

Vincent Cassel played Major Kuzmin. Joel Kinnaman played Vasili. Paddy Considine played Vladimir Malevich. Charles Dance played Major Grachev. Vlastina Svátková played "Rostov Parent #1".

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Dark Corners (Spring 2015 issue) edited by CT McNeely, Emily J. McNeely and Steve Gallagher

(pb; pulp fiction magazine/anthology: Spring 2015, Vol. 1 Issue 3)

Overall review:

The third issue of this beating-heart-of-pulpiness magazine is just as exciting as its first two issues. Many of the fiction pieces have a nasty crime and borderline psychopathic feel to them and there are some intriguing speculative fiction and horror-ish works. These works are rounded out by a few book reviews and one striking, excellent poem (see the "Standout pieces" section below).

If you're a fan of pulp, this is a worthwhile magazine to support. This issue can be purchased here.

Standout pieces:

1.) "Long Time Gone" - Chris Leek: An ex-con's bad timing complicates his relationship with his daughter and their freedom. Especially good tale that is pulp-interesting and emotional, without being bathetic about it.

2.) "People Bug Me" - Will Viharo: An on-the-lam reporter interviews a small town shrink for an article after the shrink has been attacked by one his patients -- a teenage "lycanthrope," according to the doctor. Then things get really weird. . . this quick-blast, fun and excellent story has a Fifties film feel, appropriate since two Fifties films inspired it: The Sweet Smell of Success and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (both were released in 1957). One of my favorite stories in this issue.

(This story was originally published in the fifth issue of Nightmare Illustrated magazine in March 2014.)

3.) "The Bounty Hunter" - J. David Osbourne: Carnal and memorable piece about a tracker who encounters a criminal whose bizarre predilections unsettle the tracker. Funny finish to this one.

4.) "Sinner's Holiday" - Mark Krajnak: No-words-wasted, boiled-to-its-pulpy-core versework about the elements of a losing situation. Excellent, perfect, one of my favorite pieces in this issue.

5.) "Family Matters" - Bruce Harris: Two ex-cons (one a pro, the other crime-dumb) take on a closer-to-home job to avenge a misdeed. Quick plot-pretzel, gains-acceleration-as-it-progresses work, with a nasty, satisfying ending.

6.) "Twice Dead" - Gabino Iglesias: A P.I. (Maschietti), hired by a wealthy, drug-cognizant zombie (Areola Armstrong), tracks down the mysterious murderer of her famous scientist father. This clever story hits most of the expected Chinatown-esque marks, but knowing Iglesias' references adds to the fun (in this instance).

7.) "The Last Blue Sky: Starflight" - J.J. Sinisi: Jet packs, Japanese demons and Nazis highlight this America-has-been-invaded speculative fiction tale. "Last" is a chock-full-of-action, imaginative read, with an open-to-a-sequel ending.

8.) "Man's Gotta Eat" - Warren Moore: Brutal stream-of-consciousness story about a low-life, interesting in an intense and morally void way.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...