Story Review: Castle Coeurlieu by Naomi Novik from Unfettered II

Story Review: Castle Coeurlieu by Naomi Novik from Unfettered II

 

 

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Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Spoiler Free Summary:  Castle Coeurlieu by Naomi Novik is the first story in the Unfettered II Anthology. A young boy and girl investigate a tower after dark. The secrets it keeps could make one of them a monster forever.

Character:  The characters were proactive if not memorable. I think this story fell short in two areas for me, the lack of sympathy I felt for the character is the first issue I had. Sure, the characters were taking action, but I just didn’t really care about them. Short fiction has to immediately connect readers to the characters or it will fall flat, and I think that’s what happened with this story. 

Exposition: For short fiction, this exposition was outstanding. The author’s crafting of words isn’t remotely in question. While this story didn’t really ring my bell, I’d probably be willing to give any of her longer fiction a try because of her style and how well paced her writing is. Honestly, this story comes down to a card match, which would bore me to tears in any other case, but the pacing and style of the writing allowed the story to flow well despite the lack of character connection.  

Worldbuilding: There’s not much here. The scene make sense, but I never really got a fell for much more than what I needed to know what was happening. I don’t think that’s bad, exactly. I wanted more though.

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This image of Naomi Novik was taken from her website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Dialogue: This is the other area where the story fell short for me. Essentially, there’s a card game where people talk. That conversation didn’t carry the story the way it needed to. I’ll confess I like plenty of wit in my dialogue, and that’s not exactly a thing all writers do. Still, I read a lot of talking, and it the tone and pace of that conversation didn’t really do much for me. 

Description: This was good. This author shows a lot of skill in telling concise stories and giving plenty of detail. I’ve often said that you can tell a story is good if two of the categories listed here are good, and that holds in this case. The two categories (exposition and description), just happen to be among the categories  that are the least important to me. Regardless, this story truly activated my senses. 

Overall: Drama and character fall short, but readers who enjoy smooth stories with great description would love this little story. It has a pretty interesting premise, I just wish I was more invested in the character.

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon from Alien Days Anthology

Story Review: Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon from Alien Days Anthology

Happy New Year! I hope that the previous year was full of love and joy, and I hope this next year is even better!

AlienDaysCover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Recidivism by Charles E. Gannon is the fourteenth story in the Alien Days Anthology. Dan had written a paper regarding potential methods for planetary defense from aliens. While holding the rejection letter from his educational peers, he ironically faces the very threat he was afraid of.

 

Character:  This didn’t work for me. The biggest reason is that while Dan is a character, this story is far more like reading a military defense or scholarly essay than a story. I had go back and scan the story just to recall that much. 

Exposition: This is probably the biggest area of improvement for this story. It had more exposition than anything else, which made this a particularly difficult story to get through and then remember when it came time to write this review. 

Worldbuilding: I can’t reveal the reason this area is so weak because it would be a spoiler to the plot twist at the end (or at least I think that’s what it was supposed to be). However, that plot twist isn’t foreshadowed or teased at all, so it just seems to come out of left field. The smallest bit of worldbuilding would have helped with that problem.

Dialogue: This is non applicable since there wasn’t a single conversation or spoken word in the entire story. 

Description: The only description I remember from this story was the detail put into the papers on which the essay or memo was written. Again, the ending would have been more rewarding if there was more (I do vaguely recall some details about Dan) description in the story. 

Overall: Regrettably, this story reads like a scholarly paper with brief, impersonal interludes into the life of the one who wrote it. There’s no conflict at all to speak of. There’s not lesson learned for the character. There’s no journey. I just didn’t find it entertaining or compelling at all. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: Discovery by PP Corcoran from Alien Days Anthology

Story Review: Discovery by PP Corcoran from Alien Days Anthology
AlienDaysCover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Discovery by PP Corcoran is the eighth story in the Alien Days Anthology. The crew of the Discovery is about to use integrated alien technology to test its first FTL drive to visit a far away planet. Will they make the jump? Will they meet their first alien race after this test, or is the test something completely different?

Character:  My primary grudge mentioned last week remains. I couldn’t name a single character or event without going back to look at the story. In this case, it took even longer. All of these authors are fantastic in research and description. But a great majority of their characters are sadly lacking, and this story continues that trend. 

Exposition: The good news to not remembering much means I don’t remember getting angry at how slow the story moved. This is always a good indicator that the exposition is solid or even good.  

Corcoran
Image of Corcoran was taken from his blog for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Worldbuilding: This entire story takes place on a ship. There’s not much world building or character setting at all. We establish the plot, but we don’t set any scene.

Dialogue: Most of the dialogue was thinly hidden exposition used just to keep the plot moving. It wasn’t wooden, but it didn’t build character in any way.

Description:  Probably the strength of the story and probably the strength of the anthology. It feels like this story is an amazing outline for events and plot structure. However, it lacks any sense of conflict or characterization. This is even evident in the description itself, which is vivid in the science, but absent with the characters or scenes.

Overall: I think I’m onto something with the realization I came to above. All of these stories (or at least the bulk of them) read like rushed outlines that have pretty cool plots, but they didn’t bother to take (or have) the time to develop character and establish conflict. This story sums up to be the story of a crew that traveled across the galaxy, realized no one was there, and went back home. The end. The drama that this story could have had (the anticipation of meeting an alien species, the desire to learn from new cultures or the fear of facing more advanced beings) just isn’t there. That really just undercuts everything else for me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it every time. If a story’s characters don’t grab me, the story isn’t going to grab me either. This story might best represent the main issue I have with the entire anthology. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

Story Review: Ambassador T by Quincy J. Allen from Alien Days Anthology

Story Review: Ambassador T by Quincy J. Allen from Alien Days Anthology
AlienDaysCover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Ambassador T by Quincy J. Allen is the seventh story in the Alien Days Anthology. An expedition to an alien planet thought devoid of life leads to the discovery of a telepathic insects. These insects evolve and befriend the expedition, but that friendship comes with an apocalyptic cost.

Character:  Probably my main complaint with the anthology as a whole. The character in this story isn’t memorable for several reasons (one of which is a spoiler). The characters in most of these stories feel more like video cameras with names rather than people I’m learning about of whose heads I’m in. I can’t remember the character’s name, and (in my opinion) his name doesn’t matter much because he’s just a plot device. That doesn’t make this story bad, in fact, while still not in my top three, this story is one of the better ones (top five for sure) in the anthology. But it lacks greatness because it lacks true characterization.  

Exposition: This is probably the strongest aspect of this story. It flows beautifully and let’s the plot build up to a perfect (if depressing) climax. It even has what I consider a bit of a, “Didn’t I tell you how this would end?” foreshadowing to it. It was impressive to see stories that tell a reader how things will end but still make that ending seem satisfying.  

Allen Portrait
Image of Allen was taken from his website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Worldbuilding: This was also a strength for Allen. This plot depends on careful research and detailed world building. It’s not world building in the sense of how many planets we see or how fleshed out one planet is. The detail is in the species mentioned above. Everything about this story is built on the knowledge of those creatures and how they evolve.

Dialogue: The dialogue here was understated in a lot of ways. It’s there, but it feels like it just sort of moves the plot. We don’t get a lot of characterization in it, nor do the characters’ voices shine. It isn’t bad, but it doesn’t add to the character.

Description:  Most science fiction folks would probably want more, especially your fans of Dune.  I was plenty happy with what I got. It was just enough to activate my imagination, and it didn’t beat me down to make sure I got it. 

Overall: This story’s beautifully tragic ending is a bit undercut by the lack of character. Tragedies rely on the reader’s love for the character, so if the character isn’t there, the payoff when the tragedy happens doesn’t really have the impact it’s supposed to. Where I could have been just wrecked at this ending, I felt more like, “Well that’s a bummer. OH! I get that part from the beginning now!” It is a good story. It is well written. I just think that I didn’t connect to the characters, so the story didn’t resonate with me.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Story Review: Where All Memories Are One by Leigh Saunders from Alien Days Anthology

Story Review: Where All Memories Are One by Leigh Saunders from Alien Days Anthology
AlienDaysCover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Where All Memories Are One by Leigh Saunders is the sixth story in the Alien Days Anthology. Y’reui is an insectoid queen (called Callibrini). Only we’re seeing her memories. Her hive has decided to protect a group of humans form an overwhelming force. How much of themselves are they willing to sacrifice to save their friends?

Character:  So it was hard to connect to the character because we’re actually seeing from the memories of the character (for spolierific reasons). This is probably my one knock on the story. It was hard to connect to a character whose thoughts were so alien (honestly, I promise there was no pun intended) to my own point of view. The sympathy of this story is off the charts, and it’s a good counter to the limited ability the perspective character has in which to act. I actually took the same calculated risk with Sojourn in Captivity. When a character is in some way prevented from being proactive, you have to amp up the sympathy to keep the character interesting, and I can see how Saunders worked to achieve that same balance. 

Exposition: It felt exposition-filled because of the point of view and the limited scope of the character (limited in capability not depth). The story had a few moments where it felt like things were slowing down, but in a story with this much range and with that small a word count, it’s not more exposition than necessary. Instead, there’s a bit more exposition than usual required. I think most fans of hard science fiction will be alright with it. 

Leigh
Vector image representing Saunders was pulled from her webpage for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. I have no idea if this rendering is her actual likeness or a simple avatar.  

Worldbuilding: This is where the risk Saunders took paid off. What we lack in character, we gain in seeing a different world and culture in a very different way. If you read my blog regularly, you know I usually dislike stories that have tons of worldbuilding with little character. That’s not true in this story, which I hope conveys how highly I think of the crafting of this particular story. No, it’s not in my top three, but I very much enjoyed this story as a reader, and as an author, I really appreciated how much effort had to have gone into crafting the ambitious story while still providing that awesome perspective into such a unique setting.

 

Dialogue: If there was much dialogue, I don’t remember it.  That means it wasn’t wooden or boring, but it also didn’t add to my appreciation of the story. 

Description:  This is another strength for Saunders. The descriptive phrases and well-placed adjectives really gave a vivid sense of place throughout a pretty emotionally powerful story. This tale activated my senses pretty consistently. 

Overall: This was a memorable story. Yeah, I needed to scan for a moment to jog my memory, but once I did, I remembered liking this story. It had a very Rouge One feel to me, only in this story I had what I felt Rouge One lacked–A reason to believe it could work out. I don’t think this story is great in any setting at any time, but if you want an alien science-fiction drama that makes you think, give this story a try. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

A 5-Star Review for Power of Words on Audible

A 5-Star Review for Power of Words on Audible

Greetings all,

ThePowerofWordsI really love having reviews to share, especially when they’re good ones. This particular 5-star review for The Power of Words on Audible is from M.K. Williams, author of at least five novels of which I am aware. I always have a special appreciation when other authors appreciate and recommend one of my books. It really means a lot.

As always, I continue to ask if you’ve read my work, please be so kind as to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or both. It really does help out a lot.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Story Review: Antithesis by Mitch Goth from Alien Days Anthology

Story Review: Antithesis by Mitch Goth from Alien Days Anthology
AlienDaysCover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Antithesis by Mitch Goth is the second story in the Alien Days Anthology. Dr. Jonah Edwin has received a request. They want him to talk to some aliens. The aliens themselves have found a way to speak, but communication is still suffering. What is it that has these visitors so baffled?

Character:  Edwin doesn’t really grab me. He’s thrown into a situation, and then he just kind of rolls with it. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t go. He doesn’t evoke change. This story is a plane-ride conversation followed by a interrogation room sort of conversation. Edwin doesn’t take any action. I don’t know anything about him, so I don’t care about him. I can’t even mentally picture him. 

Exposition: This story reads like a musing designed to help mankind appreciate his mortality more. This might be satisfactory for a younger reader. The main conversation (see above) is essentially looking at mortality from the perspective of an immortal filter. Since, while I hope to live many more years, I’m fairly comfortable with my mortality, the 30-minute discussion on mortality didn’t do anything for me. 

Worldbuilding: This story takes place on an earth setting, and it largely takes place on that plan and in the medical area/interrogation area. We don’t learn much about the creatures, and we only get a bit of insight to their biological needs (air). 

Dialogue: While the story was driven by conversation, it’s not particularly lively conversation. There isn’t much snap to the dialogue, and the conversation just sort of expands on a pretty narrow summary. I mean, if I had the chance to talk to aliens, I’d probably have more than one subject of conversation. Even if the realization in this story was true, I’d still want to know more. But this story just sticks to that topic of conversation and calls it a day. 

Goth
Image of Mr. Goth was taken from his Amazon author page for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

Description:  I get more information on the plane in the beginning than I do on the aliens. I have more of a sense of that flight than I do the rest of the book, and the only value of the flight was to set up the “The More You Know” ah-ha moment at the end of the story. This story was 90% tell and 10% show, and that 10% didn’t do a thing to advance the plot. 

Overall: This is a pretty “scathing” review from one point of view, so I want to clarify this a bit. This is less a story than it is a dialogue exercise with an existential scientific prompt. It asks a great question. It gives a satisfying realization. Those are true things. However, it’s not a story. There are no obstacles to overcome. In fact the only possible obstacle was handled before the story even started. There’s no conflict, so there is no resolution. The characters are only proxies for the perspectives of the motivating debate question. This might be the best philosophically driven dialogue exercise I’ve ever read, but it’s not a story. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

Story Review: Contract Fulfilled by Tim C. Taylor, From For a Few Credits More anthology

Story Review: Contract Fulfilled by Tim C. Taylor, From For a Few Credits More anthology

510QAdWwRNLSpolier Free Summary: Contract Fulfilled  by Tim C. Taylor is the sixth story in the Four Horsemen anthology, For a Few Credits More.  Saisho Branco is in over his head. His day starts off waiting to find out if he’ll be blasted by missiles, and things only get worse from there. He’s stuck with the team he’s on, and Captain Sue Blue and Major Sun Sue seem determined to get him killed. He just has to make it until the end of the contract. But what happens when the contract is fulfilled?

 

Character:  The characters in here are a charming kind of crazy. I like that the crew members of the ship are out-of-the-box thinking and clever. They grow on you as the story progresses. I can’t call them memorable.  True, it’s been a good while since I’ve read it, but some characters stick with you. These characters aren’t bad at all; they just don’t stand out against some of the others in this book (see future reviews).

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Image of Tim C. Taylor taken from his web site for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

Description: Any time one feels like a story zipped by means that the author didn’t drag the reader down with details. I can’t claim it was visceral because some of the scenes didn’t stick in my mind (which I mentioned above), but I can say that I churned through this story. This makes me believe it was an intentional choice on the part of Taylor. He gave us everything that let us keep a fast-paced fun story, willingly letting go of the deeper context, which isn’t a bad choice in shorter fiction.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

A Few Updates On What I’m Up To

A Few Updates On What I’m Up To

Greetings all,

Turns out, I’m pretty darn busy!  So I wanted to let you all know where I’m at with some projects.

Power of Words Cover_FRONTFirst: The Beta Draft of Stealing Freedom (previously Worth of Words) is done! I’d like to take a quick moment to thank the beta readers who helped me. Feedback is incredibly important, and I want to make sure I offer my gratitude when someone takes the time to help me look at my work more critically.  So please help me in thanking Carlos, Deborah, Kevin, and Julie. They all provided great insight.  I always look for overlap in stories.  I think some authors overreact to beta readers sometimes, so I try hard to put equal weight. I might shit something because of one reader comment if I feel like I was already worried about it.  I left last names out for privacy reasons, but I hope they see this, and I hope they know how appreciative I am. I hope they love the final product as much as I do.

Second: The Power of Words anthology is just about ready for final edits.  We’re wrapping up a few loose ends, but I expect to be sending Sara the whole project pretty soon (maybe a week).

SomethingAlwaysRemains
Art by Collin Fogel

Third: The final part of The Journals of Bob Drifter is scheduled to come out Aug. 1. Something Always Remains is a very near-and-dear bit of writing to me. I felt this conclusion really put a nice touch on a story I’m still proud of. Bob taught me a lot about the craft and the business, and I’ll always be glad it was my first published book. When this part drops, it’ll make it possible for readers to try a part or the whole story if they so choose. I’ll make sure to get The Power of Words to Sara first, but this is my next priority.  I just need to get it formatted for Kindle and get the cover finished (title and author text).

I’ll have more deals with that too. Just stay tuned for those deals as I get closer to publishing.

Fourth: I’m selecting a narrator for Caught.  I received 12 auditions.  Five of those are on the short list, and I’m pulling my hair out trying to pick the right one as I type this. I don’t really think I can miss with any of them.  I’ll happily make an announcement once the contract is set up.

Fifth: I have the edits for Repressed done, and I have a verbal agreement with a narrator for that as well.  I’ll make an announcement about that the same time I finish the final draft of that story.

Finally: Shore Leave is next week.  I’m honestly a bit bummed I’m selling books at the event.  I mean, William Shatner, Ming-Na Wen, Shawn Ashmore, and Allison Scagliotti will all be there, and they’re awesome people!  I’ll see if my girlfriend let’s me scamper off and get some autographs. That said, I probably should sell some books (I’d be much obliged if any reading this give one a try), and I have three panels I’m on as well. Caught and An Unusual Occupation will each be 99 cents during that weekend (July 6-8). I’m looking forward to seeing some of the readers I’d met before. I hope to meet some new ones. If you’re in the Hunt Valley, Maryland, area I’d love to see you there.

I’m super excited about this month. A lot of good things are happening, and I just wanted to share all of this news with you.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Story Review: Moth to Flame from Posh Bytes by C. Rose

51RWebyS42L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Spoiler Free Summary:  In Moth to Flame by C. Rose, Clover Moth gets in over his head as he’s set up to take the fall for hacking his company. His only possible source of help? Valerian is a mysterious bar owner who gives Moth a path to follow that will only make his situation worse. Moth must convince Valerian to help him get out of the situation she put him in.

Character:  Moth is the person who shows us the story, but it’s Valerian who grows in this particular story. I honestly wish I had more from this character and a bit more from this story. It felt a tad rushed to me. It wasn’t bad, but I found myself wanting a bit more development from the characters.

Exposition: This probably went back to Rose’s norm for this anthology. It wasn’t bad, but there were some data-dump sections that I wish would have been different. They weren’t excessive, but they were notable.

Worldbuilding: This story does expand a bit more on the lore of this world.  It introduces another dimension that I wish I’d had another story on. I won’t detract from this anthology because I wanted a few more stories, but this story took the most dramatic turn in this regard. Valerian’s origins were what fascinated me, and I wish I had more.

C.-Rose-276x300Dialogue: This was probably the main narrative device for Rose in this story. It drove most of the plot and events. It wasn’t stilted, but the dialogue was why I felt most of the plot was a bit forced. Rather than show things that could be translated visually, the characters talked. It’s a technique a lot of people do.  I just wish I had more actions and demonstrations to go along with the talking.

Description:  Rose got a bit more visceral.  Where the other stories saw a jump in physical descriptions, this story opens up some other senses that give this story a bit more of a realistic feeling.

Overall:  This story put ponderous end to Posh Bytes, but this book still sits high on my list of books read this year so far, even after all the books I’ve read after. I still stand behind my opinion that this book has a very “Hugo” worthy feel to it. It’s great for speculative fiction fans who like a bit of morality in their scifi. I was glad to meet the author and to have read this book.

Thanks for reading

Matt