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.

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 Ages of Entanglement by Robert L. Jackson, a Review

Ages of Entanglement by [R. L. Jackson]Poetic Post-Apocalypse Amongst the Palmettos

In R.L. Jackson’s novel, The Ages of Entanglement, Samson, an aged man, strives to protect himself from the intrusion of others as he wanders a near future Southeast nearly depopulated by a technological blunder. He fears entanglement with others, because entanglement precedes loss, and he’s already suffered enough loss for several lifetimes. But when he encounters the solemn and capable girl, Selene, and a handful of other travellers Samson is drawn back into the web of human relationships. Continue reading The Ages of Entanglement by Robert L. Jackson, a Review

iRomance by Darrell B. Nelson, a Review

iROMANCEiROMANCE When mild mannered accountant Otis receives a stray text from an old friend, he’s pulled into a world of technological and industrial intrigue. Turns out, the old friend has been brutally murdered, and conveniently, just as he receives this mysterious text, he encounters the highly competent and well informed Cynthia. Continue reading iRomance by Darrell B. Nelson, a Review

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, a Review

Pros: Intricately imagined world. Timely themes. Much wisdom.
Possible Cons: Suspension of disbelief mandatory. Many informational passages, characters and indefinite nouns.

Tell/Show Ratio – high
Graphic Index Sex – low
Graphic Index Violence – medium
World Building – excellent
Internal Veracity – medium

Science fiction novels often magnify current societal concerns. The opening quote from Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, informs the reader that Blackfish City will involve real estate problems of epic proportions. Continue reading Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, a Review

Seeds of Change by Willow Thomson, A Review

Pros:  Highly convincing portrayal of a particular personality.
Potential cons: Extensive telling of emotional states, low tension plot.

In Willow Thomson’s debut novel, Seeds of Change, plague and catastrophic climate change leave Earth uninhabitable. A wealthy leader gathers a group of space colonists, and they depart for an unexplored planet. Continue reading Seeds of Change by Willow Thomson, A Review

A Review of The Echo Chamber by Rhett J. Evans

Pros: Clever set up, interesting characters, timely topics
Possible Cons: Video game style climax and villain-tells-all scene. Roving point of view and a fair bit of “tell.”

The Echo Chamber is in part a tale of tech-corporate malfeasance, involving a rogue AI, a blender and ruthless Silicon Valley executives who build a social media “echo chamber.” This hypnotic virtual reality seduces most of the world’s population, trapping people in their own memories or with a personalized preconceived-worldview-comfort-zone. This shadow world is a paradise for pundits who spew, to put it politely, “non-evidence-based ideas about people and the environment.” The company dodges moral responsibility, citing freedom of access, acceptance and inclusion. Moral blinders allow massive corporate expansion with “no constraints, no thought of consequences.” Continue reading A Review of The Echo Chamber by Rhett J. Evans