The Hammond Conjecture by M. B. Reed, a Review.

Hugh Hammond of The Hammond Conjecture is an everyman, who thinks with every organ other than his brain. And unfortunately, the fate of Europe lies in his hands.

He wakes in an isolation ward with no recollection of his past. Encouraged to dredge up memories by writing, the confused man diligently types away. But the emerging memories recount an impossible history: WWII ended by 1941, Europe stultifies under Nazi rule, and Britain continues to appease.

While he languishes in home for incurables and relives his spy years, the mystery of how Hammond bounced from 1970 to 1980 is slowly revealed…

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Hammond’s decade-old memories of his spy career are beyond embarrassing. He’s an Austin Powers, saddled with an early 1970s attitude toward woman and the raging ego of a young man, but possessing low self-esteem and a talent for making the wrong choice. Every. Single. Time. Not dissimilar to my character, Martin. Fortunately for the reader, many of Hammond’s choices and much of the dialogue are quietly hilarious.

And the alternate Europe in which the spy-action occurs is complex, believable and depicted in detail. The author does an excellent job of describing the ramifications of an early treaty between Great Britain and Nazi Germany, clear even to a reader with no detailed knowledge of WWII.

This novel will interest alternate fiction and time travel readers, as well as those who enjoy thrillers. The ending is left open, suggesting a sequel is on its way. And I appreciated the professional-level editing and formatting.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Branches, by Adam Peter Johnson – a Review.

Branches, an alternative universe novel rings frightfully true, a precision hit on a raw nerve. 

Still reeling from the loss of his mother, a man dives into the social media black hole surrounding an unnamed right wing president. Several of my Facebook acquaintances went this route. And at times, I worried for their mental health. Several of the negative reviews of this novel complain about the character’s political angst. But his obsession is warranted. In his alternate timeline, the worst has happened and the US has descended into storm-trouper, police-state, racial-cleansing fascism.

Then, a shadowy company extends a bizarre offer, allowing him to shift timelines. Can he find peace in the multiverse?

What follows is a series of alternate nows and near-pasts; so more alternate universe than alternate history. And the author handles these subtle and not so subtle shifts cleverly. The plot never lost me, and I found the prose entertainingly of the moment. Most of the character’s heavy-lifting is psychological, but the novel includes plenty of action. 

Certain readers, including avid Trump supporters, social conservatives, and racists, will struggle with this novel. Those readers might want to lay aside their prejudices or give this book a miss. 

But I highly recommend this book to those of you that can lay aside politics and the other factors that divide society. Because this book is not actually about those issues. It’s about a more insidious problem in our society. It’s about becoming lost in adulthood and missing one’s own life. The last five years, packed with hatred and anxiety, have given many excuses to lose themselves. I hope this novel gives some the insight to get back on track.

This indie published first novel appears professionally edited and formatted. And the prose is high quality. 

Descendants of Power, The One Percent on Mars

In P.N. Shafa’s near future dystopia Descendants of Power, the 1% flee to Mars, leaving behind a ravaged climate and starving post-apocalyptic survivors.

But on Mars, the colonists continue with business as usual, i.e. predatory capitalism, the usual “how much can I get for myself” mentality. And turns out, that ethos doesn’t work well in an incredibly fragile situation like living in an oxygen bubble and eating off a slim range of genetically modified foodstuffs. Go figure. Continue reading Descendants of Power, The One Percent on Mars

Time Travel Via Sea Anemone! Tentacle by Rita Indiana, A Review.

Pros: Fantastic world building. Interesting Dominican Republican setting complete with sea anemones and pirates. Rich prose. Excellent portrayals of unpleasant people in desperate circumstances.

Cons: Interesting and well-crafted but unlikeable characters who don’t grow. Disappointing ending.

 

 

 

Time travel by sea anemone powered by Olokun, the great spirit who knows what lies on the ocean floor: what’s not to like about a novel based on this premise? And initially, I was quite excited to read Tentacle by Rita Indiana. Because young Achilde is more than a transsexual maid living in a plague ridden Dominican Republic surrounded by a sludge-brown sea. He’s the chosen one, heir to oceanic power, the only one able to harness the power of a sea anemone electroencephalogram and travel back in time to save his homeland.

But what Achilde really wants is a sex-change operation, not a problem in of itself, but part of the problem with this novel; the principal characters are too busy chasing self-interest (drugs, desire, public acclaim) to take right action. And they don’t grow during the novel. I’d even categorise the other main character, failed artist Argenis, as a passive-aggressive narcissist, brilliantly portrayed, but being inside his mind while he self-destructs becomes a chore. Sure, both these characters haven’t had the best lives, even so, a touch more selflessness while they skate back and forth in time. would have been appreciated. Admittedly, the author convincingly conveys her character’s humanity but the type of humanity that will drive us to extinction. And I’m still hoping we’ll redeem ourselves.

The book ends very abruptly and on a multilevel betrayal. Hoping Olokun would whip a tentacle from the ocean and drag the protagonist to a watery grave, I flipped the page, only to encountered an advertisement. Disoriented, I thought, “how strange, the publisher inserting an advertisement into a book mid-chapter.” But sadly, our time tripping protagonist wouldn’t be reconsidering his choices. I would be reading an advertisement.

The ad, however, was of interest. Tentacle’s publisher, And Other Stories, sells subscriptions to offset the cost of releasing innovative literature. And while Tentacle may not tick all my literary boxes, I’d love to read more wildly creative literature from all over the world. If you agree, check out the And Other Stories website. Hopefully, this group will navigate COVID and continue to produce mind-blowing weirdness like time travel by sea anemone.

Wake Up And Dream by Ian R. MacLeod, a Review

 

Bottom line: Wake Up And Dream is a terrific alternate history read. Fascinating, haunting, and beautifully written. Highly recommended.

The career of has-been actor, Clark Gable, didn’t make the jump from the talkies to the “feelies.” Now he’s a two bit private eye specializing in matrimonial cases, sniffing pillow cases and peering under beds. But a fresh case drags Clark back into acting and to the dark side of the technology underlying the feelies, the mysterious Bechmeir Field.

The average citizen craves to escape the Great Depression in the dream of the feelies. But Clark’s skin crawls whenever he’s in the cinema. And the technology may have other uses in politics and advertising capable of drifting the United States closer toward fascism and collusion with Nazis. Can Clark Gable, unlicensed private eye, solve the case, save his own life, and prevent a socio-political disaster?

Ian R. MacLeod’s Wake Up And Dream is alternate history at its finest. The twisting plot combines hard-boiled private eye tropes, an imaginative, speculative technology, Hollywood angst, history, and social commentary. The stellar writing expertly captures the beauty and grit of Depression era Los Angeles.

        Peg Entwistle (Wikipedia)

In my last review, I criticized “celebrity cameos” in alternate history as disruptive and self-indulgent. But while players from Hollywood’s Golden Age appear in Wake Up And Dream, the celebrity characters are integral to the plot or provide plot-relevant information, so the scenes in which they’re featured don’t read as forced. And since the era is so remote, their fame is remote. Sometimes very remote, so a reader might not even recognize a celebrity. For instance, I’d never heard of Peg Entwistle, an actress who committed suicide in 1932 by jumping from the famous Hollywood sign.

People, when they first came here from back east to make movies, they said it was because of the quality of the light. But what they didn’t talk about was the quality of the darkness. I mean, whatever’s lurking underneath…

Replay by Ken Grimwood, a Review.

Experts claim that time travel into the past defies the universal laws of physics. But there’s no reason to allow pesky reality to interfere with good fiction.

So fictional travel back in time occurs rather frequently. And whether transported by a machine, magic objects, reincarnation or dream, characters find themselves back in time. Some times, the travel results in a ground hog day-like scenario, an awakening back to the early days of the character’s life. And this sort of backward time travel makes a great story because almost everybody can relate to the question: What if I had only…?

In Ken Grimwood’s novel, Replay, Jeff Winston wakes from a soured marriage, a mediocre career, and fatal heart attack to find himself in his eighteen-year-old body. Grimwood beautifully describes the confusion, melancholy and excitement a life reboot would evoke. And Jeff Winston’s tactics, as he faces the future with knowledge of what that future holds, feel realistic. After all, there’s a certain predictability to the answer to the question: how would a person live if they had a second chance? So the reader is along for the ride as Jeff loses himself in avarice, power, hedonism, saving the world, and love. Continue reading Replay by Ken Grimwood, a Review.

The Reincarnation of Tom by Aden Simpson, a Review.

Humorous and philosophical species-jumping time-travel.

The Reincarnation of Tom by [Aden Simpson]Cubical dwelling everyman, Tom Robinson, has a problem. He’s been hit by a bus, but fortunately a crystal shop purveyor has just provided him with the secret to remembering past lives. Now Tom will wake into a new life with the memory of his old life intact. Sounds great! Doesn’t it?

Problem is Tom immediately messes up because, like most of us, he’s morally average: a bit cowardly, an occasional liar and self-interested. He spends several lives popping back and forth in time, sampling different animal species and genders, while trying to game karma into reuniting him with an unrequited love. Naturally, Tom runs afoul of the reincarnation system and his fellow “reincarnation remembers” and various unfortunate events ensue.

This book raises many of the classic time travel questions, such “should one kill Hitler?” While addressing classic karma issues, such as “is being a vegetarian that necessary, especially when one has been reincarnated as a tiger?” And the answers to these questions are interspersed with nuggets of humour and wisdom. But sadly Tom never quite learns to stop meddling and go with the flow. In fact, Tom seems to be at his best as a tree.

The writing is excellent throughout, and I appreciated the exceptional proof-reading. The Reincarnation of Tom appears to be the second book from a talented, young self-publisher. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Them Bones by Howard Waldrop, a Review

Bayou time travel adventure.

Time travel fiction encompasses many subcategories, and Them Bones by Howard Waldrop fits into a couple. The novel has an anthropological survival angle and an archaeological subplot, but also falls into the hail-Mary-backward-pass-last-ditch attempt to fix an untenable present.

The author presents three story threads; the most fleshed out relays the tale of Madison Yazoo Leake who hails from a “bombed-out time in which everybody would eventually die from radiation, from disease, from chemicals.” Continue reading Them Bones by Howard Waldrop, a Review

The Wake Up, Paranormal Dystopia by Angela Panayotopulos

The Wake Up by Angela PanayotopulosGreek Glass Makers Navigate Fascist Dystopia

Pros: Lyrical prose. Poetic and allegorical. Cast features much cultural diversity.
Possible cons: Unusual structure including set up and unlikely wrap up. More character and theme driven than plot driven. Plot requires substantial suspension of disbelief.

In the paranoid dystopia of Angela Panayotopulos’s paranormal novel, The Wake Up, a mad president, threatened by the demon he sees in his own mirror, bans all reflective surfaces.

A Virginian glass-making factory is destroyed in the resulting purge. But worse, the glass-maker’s daughter, Lexi, possesses the power to detect inner demons and angles, a power the president fears. Lexi’s gift could mean prison or death.

Then time passes. Lexi grows up, slowly separates from her shattered family and suffers a romantic disaster. Flash backs explore Lexi’s history and introduce additional characters. By and large, these plot elements come together in a last conflict, but much of this book is operating on a deeper, more abstract level, exploring the good and evil inherent to each human’s nature.

This rolling, allegorical feel meshes well with the author’s beautiful prose. Instead of saying, “time passed,” she says:

The world continued to revolve, somehow. The wind breezed through the neighborhoods and pushed the hands of household clocks. Waves rose and fell with the regularity of a sleeping god’s snores. People cupped snowflakes in the hands, scraps of divinity that melted at the human touch, as ephemeral as time.

I’ve lived in Maryland and the District, I appreciated a poetic visit to the mid-Atlantic’s seasons. This book also touches on the idea of inner demons and angles, a theme I’ve explored in my own novels. And I appreciated the careful editing, proof-reading and production of this novel. So although and because The Wake Up doesn’t follow the plot “rules” of a typical paranormal novel, it is a lovely read that I recommend.

The Great Contagion by Jeff Chapman, A Review

The Great Contagion: A Merliss Tale (The Merliss Tales Book 1) by [Jeff Chapman]Pros: Gripping plot. Professional prose, production and editing.
Possible Cons: Loner, emotionally isolated main character. Many unpleasant supporting characters.

Jeff Chapman’s medieval fantasy, The Great Contagion, lies somewhat outside my usual reading preferences. However, possession is one of my literary interests, and the novel covers a distinct possession, the well-known human into animal transfer. Hate it when that happens.

The novel’s main character is Merliss, the soul of a shaman-in-training possessing the body of a cat. She’s lived in the cat for centuries, assisting healers and training their apprentices, so she wears her possession comfortably, like an old shoe. And she’s seen plenty of drama in her long life, but nothing like The Great Contagion.

A plague descends upon the humans; they die in droves and/or behave rather badly. Concurrently, Merliss’s second home, the magical forest, faces unprecedented challenges. Attempting to help her animal, magical and human friends divides Merliss’s loyalties.

Liking Merliss was difficult at first. She read as a grumpy old lady. The initial chapter, a walk through the woods with an annoying young man almost lost me.

But how you travel is more important than your destination.

But the lovely prose kept me reading, then Merliss’s loyalty and bravery shone through her grousing, and the story grabbed me. In fact, I finished the book in two sittings, one lasting until one in the morning, an easy read given the book’s flawless editing and production, and high-grade prose.

My only quibbles are with the first chapter, as mentioned above, and the humans, who are, as in much Medieval fantasy, an uninspiring bunch. And she felt loosely bonded to her coworkers, the healer and his apprentice. The author lays out Merliss’s loyalties to the humans. But I still wondered why she bothered with them. In addition, most of her forest friends are ambivalent characters, mostly frenemies, but I suppose that’s a cat’s life.

An honest soul takes time to mature. More time than most have. They are difficult to find in the mortal world.

The book’s Wind in the Willows’ vibe should appeal to readers of animal based fantasy, such as the Redwall series and possibly Hollow Kingdom.