Review: “Reclaimed,” Madeleine Roux

Rating: 5 out of 5

Madeleine Roux’s science fiction/horror novel Reclaimed takes place a couple hundred years in the future. Earth is in bad shape, and Senna lives on a space station. She has a lot of trauma from a horrible event that left her as the sole survivor, and a reclusive, wealthy, brilliant technologist, Paxton Dunn, offers her a way out: he can erase the traumatic memories, and leave the rest of her intact. Along with her are two other participants. Han, a brilliant 14-year-old boy who idolizes Paxton, wants to forget details surrounding his mother’s death. Zurri, a supermodel, wants to forget the horrific death of her stalker. Paxton promises the LENG program can help all of them, but there are unexpected side effects, and the participants start to wonder if more memories aren’t being taken away from them than just the ones they expected.

The characters are wonderful. Paxton is not the stereotypical reclusive genius. While he surrounds himself with beautiful women, that’s a detail that becomes much more interesting as we learn more about those women. Senna is shy and easily overwhelmed, but she has a great deal of strength inside. Zurri is the very definition of fierce; while she comes across as a demanding diva, she too has that inner strength, and has some very firm moral convictions. Han seems like an arrogant kid, yet he has his own sort of brilliance and his own emotional needs. Not a single character in here disappointed me or felt too one-sided. Senna is the closest we get to a traditionally “likable” character, but they’re all absolutely engaging. They make a particularly intriguing whole as a group–not at all three characters I would have thought to throw together.

Most of the book takes place on the barely-inhabited Ganymede. The place is dangerous, and Paxton lives there with just a skeleton crew. There’s intriguing use of some technologies, not always in expected ways. We do eventually see how LENG works, getting a bit more information with each person who’s subjected to the method. The LENG program is very beautifully handled in how it’s revealed to us a bit at a time, via both its effects and the experiences of the three participants. The theme of how our traumas inform who we are, and what might happen if we try to curate our memories, is riveting.

This is my second Madeleine Roux book, and I love both of them. I hope she writes more books that take place in this universe, as the combination of horror and science fiction is a favorite of mine!

Then came the fear.

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Short Take: “Operation: Sahara,” William Meikle

Rating: 4 out of 5

I was so happy to realize that book 12 of William Meikle’s S-Squad series, Operation: Sahara, had come out! It’s a hugely fun series of adventure/horror/creature feature military-vs-monsters novellas. Each one takes just a couple of hours or so to read, has fun banter between the Scottish military characters, some tidbits of interesting character exploration, and lots of monster-fighting action! This time, a 10-person research team has gone missing in the Sahara desert. The squad has to (unofficially) go into Libyan territory to rescue the researchers, who were looking for a lost city named Zerzura. As they make their way through the desert, their first hint that something’s gone wrong is a camel covered in blood (not its own). When Captain John Banks reads an excerpt from a journal that mentions a giant statue of a beetle, he starts to suspect the squad is going to encounter monsters again.

My one letdown with this volume is that it felt like the end of the story wrapped up a bit too quickly. Other than that, it was the usual fun. This time we spend some time following Davies around as he gets separated from the group, and it makes for an interesting change of pace. It’s still weird being without Hynd, but Wiggo’s adjustment to his promotion is keeping things engaging.

I absolutely recommend this book, and if you haven’t read the other books yet, the whole series. Each book should be able to stand fairly well on its own, but there’s a minor amount of character turnover and development, so it wouldn’t hurt to read the books in order. My only content note is for a bit of blood, death, and injury.

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Review: “Amalgam: Book One: Contact,” Mike Duke

Rating: 3 out of 5

I’m a huge fan of the SF/horror combo (the Alien franchise, etc.), so I was really looking forward to Mike Duke’s AMALGAM: BOOK ONE: CONTACT. Unfortunately it only somewhat lived up to that anticipation. Our story takes place in 2177 on a mining colony on an exomoon. Maynard Creed is one of a number of miners trying to reach an unidentified vein of high-density metal within the exomoon in hopes of a large payout. When it turns out to be alien technology instead of a resource, and Maynard discovers something unusual within it, everything goes sideways. Soon he and his fellow employees are trying their best to get rid of a rampaging monster that eats everyone in sight. Hopefully he’ll also be able to save his girlfriend, Jenna, who’s on board the nearby station.

I started out seriously not liking Maynard, largely because he referred to his ex-wife taking him to the cleaners in the divorce as her “raping” him. Comparing every trouble to rape is seriously obnoxious. I never ended up liking him, but at least he’s decent apart from that. He’s an interesting character who is a bit blunt and rude, but who stands up and does the right thing under pressure. There’s an excellent scene in which he very nearly loses his mind, which is great because he isn’t a trained soldier and shouldn’t be calm about dealing with an alien attack.

Jenna at one point describes Savannah, a “Sex-Synth” who comes to her clinic (Jenna is a doctor), as being “voluptuous” and having hair that “tickled at the top of her breasts.” It’s very much a men-writing-women moment, because women rarely view each other this way. Especially when we’re talking about a doctor doing the observing, and it’s someone she already seems familiar with.

Unfortunately there are too many red herrings (in terms of resources that are baldly described up front and then ignored later), and too many plot holes (mostly involving the creature’s intelligence and ability to absorb people’s memories and knowledge). If you want a few details, check the spoiler section at the bottom of this review.

The action elements are the best parts of this book. There’s some fun combat, lots of weaponry, interesting actions on the alien’s part, and so on. The combat is fun and intense, interspersed with tense periods of sweat-filled quiet as characters try to avoid or outwit the alien rather than just outrunning it. I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series, but I can see that decision depending heavily on the reader’s individual preferences.

Content note: painful death and dismemberment.

SPOILER WARNING: Savannah is a total red herring. I mean it’s kind of nice that something unexpected happens, but it also feels a bit off when we get a couple of pages about how she was built on a Combat Synth chassis and can access those abilities when humans are threatened, then that doesn’t pay off properly. That isn’t the only red herring–there are multiple other resources (drones, battle armor) that are set up and then casually discarded without any payoff. It would be nice if they’d at least started to be useful before taking a left turn, rather than simply going unused, although at least I can hope they’ll be used in later books. In addition, the alien creature seems to absorb knowledge from the people it consumes–it uses security codes from multiple victims. However, when it consumes several people who are working to bait it into a trap, it never picks up on the trap. Also, even though the marines know it has these codes, it never occurs to them that it might actually use them when trying to survive their trap. Also also, when the good guys send an SOS for evac, they totally fail to mention that the alien is in any way intelligent or in possession of colonists’ memories. I’ll avoid details about the ending except to say that once again they completely fail to anticipate the creature’s intelligence/access to memories in what they’re anticipating. END SPOILERS

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Review: “Tiamat’s Wrath,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

In James S.A. Corey’s Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse, 8), once again the crew of the Rocinante is scattered to the four winds. Holden is captive on Laconia (he likens himself to a “dancing bear,” left to wander under guard so people will realize the high consul isn’t afraid of him). Bobbie and Alex are using their captured Laconian ship, the Gathering Storm, to run missions for the underground. Naomi is helping Saba to run the underground, sifting through information and coming up with battle plans. And Amos… well, he went on a mission to Laconia and vanished, never heard from again. Teresa Duarte, 14-year-old daughter of the Laconian high consul, has become one of our point-of-view characters, and Elvi Okoye returns as well.

Elvi and her husband Fayez have taken positions with the Laconians (not like they had much choice) tooling around the “dead systems” looking for alien artifacts. When a horrific event sends her back to Laconia, she’s assigned to work with Doctor Cortázar to find a cure for something that’s happened to the high consul. She’d rather work with anyone else, but she doesn’t have a choice in the matter. How Elvi’s being brought into everything that’s going on, what she discovers, and how she handles it ends up being quite significant. She’s being buffeted by forces she can’t control, but she isn’t alone.

Holden is up to something. His words to a variety of people seem to have hidden meaning, as though he’s working an agenda beyond the obvious. He’s learned a little bit of subtlety in his old age. He’s pushing at Teresa, trying to bring her to some kind of realization. It was his words to Duarte that caused Elvi to be given her current job. He’s out of the game almost entirely… or is he? There are costs to being a prisoner, and he isn’t really the man he used to be.

Teresa feels alone. Everybody is nice to her because they have to be, and her every move is scrutinized. She’s a rebellious teen, only her acts of rebellion will have far-reaching consequences. She’s made a new friend, and she doesn’t want to help her minders to cover up her father’s odd infirmity. When she sneaks out of the compound, she stumbles into all kinds of trouble. She may be angry, bitter, and afraid, but she has a lot of smarts and a lot of strength as well.

Naomi, Bobbie, and Alex are each doing their own part in the quiet fight against Laconian rule. They’re working with a mixed bag of recruits, and relying on as much secrecy as is humanly possible. It seems virtually impossible that they’ll survive much longer. Between the three of them exist existential questions about why and how to fight the Laconians’ authoritarian rule. As they take on their missions, things get SO TENSE.

Throughout all of this looms the threat of the forces that destroyed the protomolecule-producing aliens. Something triggers longer, more devastating effects from them, beyond just the gates occasionally eating a ship or the three minutes of unconsciousness when the Tempest’s weapon was fired.

There are high-consequence circumstances going on. The fate of worlds is at stake. The human race is in danger. And each individual member of Holden’s crew could be wiped out at any moment. There are unexpected casualties and seemingly inevitable ones, so that you never know quite what’s going to happen.

I’m still loving this series, and I’ve pre-ordered book 9!

“It’s been a really weird day.”

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Review: “Far From Home,” ed. Samantha Kolesnik

Rating: 4 out of 5

Samantha Kolesnik edited this anthology of short, adventure- and travel-themed horror stories, Far From Home: an Anthology of Adventure Horror. Like many anthologies, I think that people will find the overall quality solidly good, but of course not every story will resonate with every reader.

Some stories really hit the spot for me. Hailey Piper’s “Crepuscular” was tormented and bleak, a story about a girl who’s having increasingly dangerous fits, and the two mothers who will do anything to save her. Lenn Woolston’s “Hungry,” about a high school couple who goes off into the woods to take photographs before leaving for different colleges, is enrapturing–it captures the hungry emotions of its characters perfectly.

Ali Seay’s “Descending” is a riveting and unusual look at a sociopath (psychopath?) who’s desperate to feel something, anything. Stephanie Ellis’s “Penance” is a beautiful story about two women who seem like they’ve taken a wrong turn, and their husbands who are having mid-life crises. Ross Jeffery’s “Towing the Chum Line” is a shudder-inducing story about a couple of newlyweds who want to see as many major varieties of sharks as they can. A.K. Dennis’s “Those Who Wander” introduces us to Derek, who apparently got lost in the woods after his girlfriend, Sarah, broke up with him. When he finds a smug, possibly threatening man by a fire, he has to weigh the desire to warm up and dry off with his distrust of the man.

“I tend to find things I like and kill them. Jeans, lipsticks, shoes. People.”

Villimey Mist’s “Hell of a Ride,” about a woman who’s still grieving for her dead foster child, is one of those stories that can be interesting and engaging despite being predictable (really, many horror stories work because they use classic horror tropes). A.A. Medina’s “An Open Casket Adrift,” in which Delilah finds herself adrift in a boat with her father’s corpse, is a great look into the mind of someone who’s going a touch mad.

I enjoyed Vaughn A. Jackson’s “The Thing at the Top of the Mountain.” Nix Rhodes, history student, wants to find some ruins to spice up her thesis with. Antonella, her guide, seems awfully nervous. Cynthia Pelayo’s “The Light Blinds,” about a couple who’ve been chasing stories of mysterious lights in the skies, was good but not really my thing. Michael Patrick Hicks wrote “A Song of the Earth,” a story of four people who go hiking and what they find. I couldn’t understand how a group of people would think it was a good idea to take someone who’s never hiked before on a hundred-mile(!) hike for funsies, but the ending was intriguing. Beverley Lee’s “Little Girl Lost” was very good (a woman going on a treasure hunt by horseback gets lost in the snow), but I was more intrigued by the abandoned original plotline than I was by the eventual conclusion.

Some of the stories just struck me as… kind of odd. Good, but I couldn’t connect with them in some way. The events in these stories felt a little random. Ed Kurtz’s “Lay Low” with its unlucky prospector, Charlie Lee Landry, was one of those. Mitch Sebourn’s “The Apostle” is about a lawyer who did some embezzling, and the weird mural in her new home that won’t go away. The story was good, but the ending didn’t really work for me. Audrey Williams’s “I Never Want to Go Back” felt oddly random, as though the story was a kind of free association exercise, which didn’t really work for me; the tone was also very matter-of-fact. It’s a tale of a woman who finds herself going through a mirror into a dark world beyond. Carmen Baca’s “Deavale’s Design” sees grad student Nate inheriting a cursed trunk. I couldn’t understand why his and his professor’s reaction to reading an outlandish account of two-foot-tall natives and a cursed trunk led to immediate unflinching belief and resignation.

Content note–this is not an anthology of “extreme” horror, but still has its moments. Expect a bit of body horror, blood and gore, deaths, murder, one detailed instance of animal harm/death (in Ross Jeffery’s story), and a touch of cannibalism.

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Review: “Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 6,” Various Authors

Rating: 4 out of 5

Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 6 includes a number of very good stories, including a few by authors I know and love (Christine Morgan, Hailey Piper). I also definitely found a few new authors to check out!

Ronald Kelly’s “The Nipples In Dad’s Tool Box” is unexpected and fascinating. There’s a serial killer called “The Handyman Killer,” and Cody is starting to worry that his father might be the killer. I was very drawn in by this one.

Christine Morgan’s “Going Green” doesn’t really seem to fit the tone of the rest of the book, but it’s also one of my favorite stories in here. Zeaa wants to finally best her frenemy Brangelina’s knack for getting ahead of all the ecological trends and making her look bad. She’s going to the company Eden to have a radical procedure done. She’s warned that once the process has started, it can’t be stopped. The story unfolds much like the flowering of a plant.

Rachel Nussbaum’s “Whiskey to the Wound” is another favorite from this book. When someone grabs Derek off the street and takes his kidney, he finds he cannot die. The story surrounding how this came about is minimal, because it isn’t really relevant to the tale. This is an interesting sort of not-quite–romance, half-friendship, semi-sexual tale set against a backdrop of blood and guts.

Hailey Piper’s “In Subspace, No One Can Hear You Scream” delves into the mind of a person who is allowing herself to be dominated in front of an audience. As they sink deeper into the experience than ever before, something unexpected happens. This is, in part, a delve into the thoughts of someone who is deeply unsatisfied with their body.

Sean Patrick Hazlett’s “The Pogonip Fog” is a fairly straightforward story of people being killed by monsters in the snow, but the ending adds to the experience in an unexpected way.

Alicia Hilton’s “Gunfire and Brimstone” rode a kind of line for me. At times it was too surreal, and at times it was absolutely fascinating. Baby Gordon is oddly aggressive with his mother, but all is not as it seems.

Matthew V. Brockmeyer’s “The Happiest Man in the World” is another favorite, particularly when you add the title of the story into the rest of it. A widower deputy participates in a raid against a doctor who’s selling prescriptions and performing back-alley abortions. He finds a very strange baby(?) and against his will is drawn to take it home with him. Things get a bit wild after that!

Patrick C. Harrison III’s “Full Moon Shindig” tells a brief and bloody tale. Travis returns from the military to go to a party with his old high school friends. He’s shocked at the state of the party–half-naked people, sex in full view of the crowd, drug use, and oh yeah, a young woman tied to a pool table. I really appreciated where this story took the reader. My only difficulty with it was trying to figure out a weird detail in the ending.

Christine Morgan has a second story in here with “The Drinking-Horn.” Ullvik the Bottomless has trouble finding enough alcoholic beverages to keep himself satisfied. This takes a rather fascinating and unexpected turn.

Octavia Cade’s “Otto Han Speaks to the Dead” tackles the guilt of developing weapons of war, combined with a ghost story. Instead of haunting her own husband, the ghost decides to haunt an acquaintance who might still be salvageable.

Deborah Sheldon’s “All the Stars In Her Eyes” introduces us to Janet and her daughter, Aurora, who has an odd condition that leaves sparkling stars in her eyes. When a dog shows up with the same condition, Janet thinks Aurora’s mysterious father is going to return. It’s hard to figure out how much to believe in Janet’s assertions, and to me there was a little too much ambiguity still, but it definitely gave me a chill.

Alessandro Manzetti’s “The Saint” just confused the hell out of me. There’s a mysterious serial killer who’s taking apart prostitutes. And… that’s sort of it. It’s a weird time, maybe a sort of dystopian future I think?, and the story just abruptly ends without anything really happening on-screen.

Robert Guffey’s “Her Wounded Eyes” is another story that confused me. One character seems to die in two different ways, and maybe one or both are not real? And how much of what Wanda thinks is happening is really happening? I wanted to like this one, but couldn’t pin it down enough.

Too-surreal events are one of the things that turn me off in horror, as are abrupt endings, and those are the problems I experienced in most of the stories I didn’t like as much. If those two stylistic choices aren’t ones that bother you, you’ll probably find the entire book even better than I did.

Content note: Torture, murder, gore, body horror, masochism, sexual content, memories of rape, cancer, dysphoria, dismemberment, animal death, suicide, the lead-up to rape, domestic violence.

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Review: “The Black Farm,” Elias Witherow

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Elias Witherow’s horror novel The Black Farm, about what happens after you commit suicide, is a wildly mixed bag. He says in his author’s note that he wants to bring “fresh concepts” to and “breathe new life into” the horror genre. While much of this book is in fact surprisingly original, there are veins of terribly stale stereotypes and tropes shot through it. Some very unfortunate ones, in fact.

Nick and Jess are at the end of their ropes. Jess had a miscarriage, Nick’s father died in an accident, Nick lost his job, he received an eviction notice, and Jess’s sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. They decide there’s only one way to handle their problems: a joint suicide. When they take a whole lot of sleeping pills, Nick wakes up in a very strange place. The sun is a sickly ball of red dripping black fluid. Red tears rend the sky. A disfigured monster of a man is dragging him into a building, where he’s told that he’s on the Black Farm ruled by The Pig. When Heaven and Hell couldn’t decide what to do with those who committed suicide, they compromised by creating this place. The Pig was put in place over it, and it went a little crazy. Now the abominations created by The Pig (the Pig-Born) torture and kill people over and over, and they’re repeatedly reborn onto the Farm to suffer and die again. Nick is frantic with worry for Jess, and determined to find her any way he has to.

Content note: Suicide and suicidal ideation. Rape and torture. Dismemberment. “Breeding” monstrosities. Cannibalism. Vomit. Fatphobia, as well as racial stereotype, and the stereotype of the “perfect woman.”

I’ll get the bad parts over with. The vast majority of the bad guys are fat, and the stereotypical fat = evil trope is heavily drawn. The only Black character lived in “the projects” and killed himself with a drug overdose. Jess is the most insanely perfect woman ever: perfectly pure, perfectly loving, perfectly understanding, perfectly supportive at every turn. She barely talks, is a victim in need of rescuing, and meekly does everything Nick tells her to. She’s so thoroughly one-note on her pedestal it’s ridiculous; she’s a shining beacon of “no real woman could ever remotely live up to this.” The other woman who shows up, Megan, is largely there to suffer so that Nick can be pushed into his character development. There’s also a very big theme of “you had no idea how good you had it and you should have appreciated it while you could” with respect to people who are suicidal, and that’s incredibly unempathetic. There’s a character who, within five minutes of meeting Nick, casually spills all his greatest weaknesses to Nick. I facepalmed. The book could also use another editing pass.

There are some aspects of the worldbuilding that don’t make sense to me. The island on which the Black Farm is found isn’t huge, yet it seems almost sparsely populated. If no one can die without being reformed in another location on the island, and every suicide arrives here, and apparently women can have children here, then how on earth is there no overpopulation? How are there not human children running around? For that matter, why does everyone speak English? When people die on the Farm and are reformed, they clearly return in some sort of better health than when they died, so are there any effects that linger? Since food and drinking water are hard to come by, can someone starve/dehydrate to death? Is it possible to become ill? Is clothing reformed as well? I don’t need every question answered, but I need to feel like the author has a handle on how things work, and I don’t.

I don’t often read “extreme” horror; I made an exception for this one because I saw the book recommended a lot on a certain books of horror group. I will give the author this: he makes the nastier content absolutely integral to and necessary to the plot, which is what I want when I read extreme horror. It’s key to how Nick changes and what he accomplishes; it isn’t heaped on for sheer titillation.

The idea of the Black Farm is absolutely fascinating. It’s this little somewhat-out-of-control reality with an all-too-vain godlet running it. The Pig wants the power its betters have–it wants to create life, and a world. It isn’t mindlessly evil. It leaves me wanting to know more, and I like that. Nick’s journey from loving boyfriend desperate to find his girlfriend to insane badass doing every last thing he can think to do is what made this an otherwise good book for me.

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Review: “Malignant Summer,” Tim Meyer

Rating: 5 out of 5

In Tim Meyer’s horror novel Malignant Summer, it’s 1998. High school students Randall and Alphie are hiding clues for the annual Great Hunt, in which a bunch of students try to solve a clue hunt. After having a very creepy encounter in a graveyard, they seem to disappear. A little later, they’re seen by various kids looking… wrong. Like they have growths on their skin, little roots poking out. Like there’s some dark fluid seeping from their eyes. Their lungs make crackling noises and their eyes turn gold. When one team of students makes it to the graveyard during the hunt, they have a horrible encounter that leaves some of them traumatized and others sick. Meanwhile, a cancer is spreading through the town’s children, and people are sure it’s because of dumping from the local chemical plant. 14-year-old Doug and his friends Grady and Jesse become the unlikely heroes trying to save their town. Working together with them are Maddie and Abby, and local bully Jewel becomes involved from a different direction.

This plot is a fatal cross-contamination between a historical atrocity from the time of the colonists, an Old God from the Land of Dreams, and an eco-horror toxic dump site tale. It all intertwines in fascinating ways. At first the narrative felt a little awkward and confusing, but it picked up very quickly. Doug has a particular role to play, because his mother tried to kill him and his father years earlier to “save them” from what’s happening now. Now he’s hoping his institutionalized mother might have useful information. It becomes difficult as time goes on to recognize the distinction between reality, dreams, and hallucinations, but it never becomes too surreal.

One of the better details is the incredibly dark take on what is essentially Mother Earth. The Mother of Dead Dreams (the Old God has several names) was a creator god on Earth, until she was sent to the land of dreams. She’s angry. She’s infectious. And she wants to get rid of the humans who are wrecking the world she made. It’s a great take on the topic.

There’s a sequence where it seems like we’re going to get the stereotypical Native wise man saving the day, but I’ll just say it happily doesn’t take that well-trodden path.

This is a really fun horror novel with plenty to it. It’s a coming-of-age novel in which not all of the kids in the town will live. It’s creepy and enjoyable and well worth the read.

Content note: racism, bullying, body horror, animal harm/death, domestic violence and drug use, suicidal ideation, monstrous pregnancy.

“Don’t be afraid. Not yet.”

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Review: “Persepolis Rising,” James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5

30 years later… No, really. James S.A. Corey’s military science fiction novel Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, 7) takes place roughly three decades after Babylon’s Ashes. Laconia, the colony formed by the rogue Martian contingent led by “High Consul” Winston Duarte, has decided it’s time to reinstate contact with the rest of humanity. They’re certain that they know how to make civilization peaceful and prosperous–even if it means they have to conquer everyone in order to achieve their goals. And they’ve been building warships based on alien technology that can do the job. They’re also doing human experiments using the protomolecule–something that almost certainly won’t end well. Drummer, who used to be Fred Johnson’s head of security, is now “Madame President” of the Belters’ Transport Union, and she finds herself in the unenviable position of having to decide whether or not to use her resources to fight against the Laconians. Earth has also recovered just enough that it’s starting to become active in matters again–one of the benefits of picking up 30 years later. As for our heroes on the Rocinante, Holden and Naomi want to retire, and they’ve decided to sell the ship to Bobbie. She becomes captain just in time to deal with this latest crisis.

There’s a theme of fascism and dictatorship running through this book. Before Laconian ships arrive, Holden is contracted to deliver consequences to a colony that’s refusing to obey the Transport Union, and he has to decide how to handle the fact that he’s basically delivering a death sentence. Once the Laconians arrive and take over Medina Station, we get to see that the best of intentions can still devolve into arrests, deaths, and so forth. We also experience the new Medina “governor’s” slide as he, a loving family man, starts to see the conquered as less than human. The Laconians legitimately seem to want to improve people’s lives (most of them, anyway), but this book gives a great look at how the way you go about such a thing has consequences. For everyone. We see what happens when there’s zero room given to negotiate those consequences.

The crew of the Rocinante has seen better days. Alex has married and divorced again. Amos seems to be going off the deep end–and we see what happens when he begins to lose control of his psychopathic tendencies. Clarissa is very sick, actually dying, because of the degradation of the glands she had implanted. Holden and Naomi are tired. Bobbie chafes at being under someone else’s command for so long and wants to run things herself. There’s also no way for the crew to free Medina without causing a lot of collateral damage–to themselves and others.

Don’t worry–we come back to that odd anomaly where some ships get “eaten” by the gates. There’s a massive weapon the Laconians are wielding that’s based on the same technology, and it’s causing its own side effects. We also see bits and pieces of what the Laconians are doing with the protomolecule, and if it took up more of the book I’d be adding “horror” to my mental list of keywords.

As a little tidbit, I also appreciate that this series shows plenty of relationships between members of the opposite sex that have nothing to do with sex or romance, ranging from professionalism to close friendships.

“I don’t want to bet my life on other people being smart,” Holden said.
“Voice of experience?”
“I’ve been hurt before.”

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Review: “Goblin,” Josh Malerman

Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Malerman’s Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas is an interconnected set of six stories–as well as a connected prologue and epilogue–all of which take place in and around the town of Goblin. I really enjoyed the variety of tales!

“Prologue: Welcome”: Tom is a delivery driver, and he’s been given an unusual late-night delivery to Goblin. It’s a big ol’ box, and it comes with remarkably specific directions: don’t open the package. Don’t stop driving. Ignore anything unusual you might hear. And if it can’t be delivered within the specified half-hour window, destroy it. Naturally, it becomes difficult for Tom to adhere to these requirements.

“A Man In Slices”: Richard has been Charles’s only friend since they met in school. Now that they’re adults, once again Charles needs Richard’s help. Only the kind of help he needs may be more than Richard wants to part with! We see Richard and Charles’s interactions in slices as Richard contemplates the relationship they’ve had, and it’s fascinating. The two characters are unusual, with a particularly bizarre friendship. This is a great story!

“Kamp”: Walter Kamp is the Goblin historian, and he seems to be having a difficult time lately. He’s so convinced that something’s going to haunt him that he’s wrecked his entire apartment making sure he can see to the walls in every direction. He’s set up traps. Even his bed is made of plexiglass so he can be sure nothing’s hiding beneath it! Lucky for him, his landlady seems to have a sense for how to distract him from his paranoia. This story as well has remarkably interesting characters. Walter is not your average paranoid loon, and his landlady is remarkably astute about human nature. This story also gives us a rundown of some of the legendry surrounding the town’s origins.

“Happy Birthday, Hunter!”: Neal Nash, called Hunter by his friends (because he’s an extremely avid hunter of game) is throwing the ultimate birthday bash, and it seems as though most of the town is in attendance. But all Hunter cares about is bagging the one forbidden game creature in Goblin: the Great Owls. I certainly didn’t see where this one was going, and it’s excellent! Hunter and his friends and wife are again a really interesting set of people. Malerman has a knack for relatable, unusual characters.

“Presto”: Young Pete is a huge fan of magic shows, and more than anything he wants to see the magician who’s something of a pariah among other magicians: Roman Emperor. When he finds out Roman is going to do a show in his town, Pete goes to great lengths to get there. But Pete’s going to find out that Roman’s magic isn’t quite what he’s expecting. Both Roman and his odd assistant Maggie are, once again, great characters. I can’t really talk much about them without giving too much away, but they interact in such unusual ways.

“A Mix-Up At the Zoo”: This is a particularly bizarre tale of a somewhat odd man, Dirk, who works two jobs: one giving tours at the zoo, and on the weekends he works at the slaughterhouse. The animals seem particularly calm when he’s around, and in particular he wishes that the gorilla, Eula, could be free. This story drags on a little, particularly with some bizarre dream sequences, and gripped me the least of the stories in here. But it’s still a good story, and the end is positively chilling.

“The Hedges”: Wayne Sherman is responsible for creating a stunning hedge maze that’s supposed to be next to impossible to solve–and hides a prize for anyone who might solve it. One day a little girl solves his puzzle, and before she leaves, she tells him she’s going to go to the police and tell them exactly what she found. Wayne starts packing up to leave, but memories of his dead wife Molly haunt him and slow him down. And when Margot, the little girl, goes to the police, she finds that the very bizarre police of Goblin are maybe not people she should have voluntarily chosen to deal with. Once again, it’s the characters that make this story so good.

“Epilogue: Make Yourself At Home”: Tom is trying to deliver his box, but the recipient won’t answer the door. He doesn’t want to have to deal with the box himself, so he finds the front door unlocked and goes on in. Before the end of the night, he’ll be very glad he doesn’t actually live in Goblin. The only thing that I couldn’t quite get is how it is that the contents of the box came to Goblin from somewhere else. They seem like they should have been there to begin with.

The characters are definitely the best part of this book–not a one of them is entirely what I expected. The town’s history is fascinating and relates to a handful of the stories. There’s a ton of atmosphere, and plenty of mysterious goings-on. I absolutely recommend this collection to horror fans!

Content note: animal harm/death; animals eating animals. Mild horror-story blood and gore. Some mild sexual content. A little bit of body horror.

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