Spoiler Free Summary:Within The Storm by Beth Frost is the eighteenth story in the Alien Days Anthology. A grandmother sits her children down to tell the story of when an alien came to get shelter from a storm.
Character: There wasn’t really any conflict in this story. I can say the main character is sympathetic. But without anything to struggle against, there wasn’t much pulling the story along. If you’ve ever helped someone get shelter from a storm, you know how this story goes.
Exposition: This was better than the greater majority of the stories in this anthology. Despite being told in first person, this story doesn’t slow down to explain much.
Worldbuilding: The story takes place on a farm on Earth, so there simply isn’t much world building.
Dialogue: The dialogue is conversational, but without any conflict, it felt mundane. It was like eavesdropping on the Waltons.
Description: This was the strongest aspect of the story. The description was vivid with great attention to detail without forcing the story to come to a screeching halt. The characters received an equal amount of attention as the setting. All the senses got some sort of trigger.
Overall: This story just had no conflict. There was nothing pulling the story along. There was no danger. I can understand if the author intended to have an alien encounter story that didn’t involve some sort of invasion angle, but I had no reason to read other than I had paid for the book. For me, stories need something. No, the alien didn’t need to be hostile. We didn’t even need some sort of rush to save the alien from human experiments, but I certainly needed something. Maybe a “Keep him hidden” angle. Without a conflict to drive the story, I couldn’t get into it.
Spoiler Free Summary:A Mission of Mercy by Mark Lynch is the fifteenth story in the Alien Days Anthology. Christopher Taylor, struggling with memories of his time as a POW, is about to investigate the most unusual crash ever. But when faced with putting a creature through treatment he’d previously faced, Taylor has to make a decision on what to do.
Character: Taylor is sympathetic and absolutely proactive. The author did a fine job of helping us understand Taylor’s motivation, which is a step up from most of the other stories in this anthology.
Exposition: This is still a big area of improvement for Lynch as well as for a lot of the other authors in this anthology. There was a lot of telling in this story. I’ll concede this exposition at least established something important, but the story dragged because I read a lot of backstory.
Worldbuilding: This story is historical fiction. There’s not a lot of world building other than scene and location.
Dialogue: The dialogue in this story was also limited (another reason the story dragged for me). What dialogue I remembered and reviewed seemed at least natural, but it was a very small aspect of the story.
Description: I think the reader gets what he needs, but even I didn’t get as much as I wanted. There was attention spent on sight, but little other senses, so the story lacked a visceral quality for me.
Overall: A readers opinion on this story is going to depend entirely on what they think of the ending. I didn’t like it, but I did understand it. I would have preferred a different decision for the same motivation. The story wasn’t bad, but it did drag a lot. Taylor makes the story worth checking out if you like character studies. People who both understand and like the ending will think much more highly of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spoiler Free Summary: When an astrologist notices a star that regularly vanished and then returns, the futuristic Commonwealth society of planets can’t help but investigate the mystery. The mission brings old enemies together, old hostilities to a boiling point, people who were nobodies to fame, and people who were legends hundreds of years to vanish completely.
Character: This mammoth tome frankly has too many points of view and characters to track. There’s the guy who invented wormholes and the detective who only failed to solve one case. I also remember a guy ended up a starship captain. My biggest problem with this book is that it demands far too much of the reader. If I think about each individual story, they’re great. I like stories that have a good cast, but this book simply throws too many plots and characters at me. Even while reading, I couldn’t ever keep up with who was what doing what and where. I have two plots I liked best, and they are only vaguely connected to the mission to investigate the vanishing star.
Exposition: This is probably the other reason I struggled with this book. A massive cast combined with mountains of exposition just brings the book to a screeching halt for me. We get several pages of life story for each character before anything actually happens. Again, and one of these stories would have been great, but each block of exposition would be tolerable with fewer characters to work around. There are even side plots that just don’t affect the overall plot at all, and that just drags the pace even further down. The coolest plot doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. I think I’d love this series if book one was three to five books.
Worldbuilding: Now, if you love deep worlds with complex histories, this is the story for you. The worldbuilding in this story is masterful. I’m not a scientist by any standard, but I would hazard a guess that the speculative fiction in this is based on solid, well-researched material.
Dialogue: This was solid. It wasn’t impressive by any means. I don’t recall any great lines, but it didn’t drag the pace down. Most of the dialogue I remember was just thinly veiled exposition. Most of it was either backstory on a character or explanation of something that happened off screen. Everyone does this. It’s not criminal, but there usually needs to be a bit of snap to the dialogue that livens things up a bit. Again, I didn’t have any problems with the dialogue in this story; I just didn’t particularly like it either.
Description: I imagine most fans of pure speculative scifi will love the level of description in this book. It wasn’t as meticulous as say, Dune, but it was certainly detailed and absolutely visceral. If I’m being fair, it’s probably just right, but combined with the exposition and number of characters, it just slowed things that much more for me.
Overall: If I’m being honest, this book was just so broad in scope. There are stories and characters in this I was truly interested in, but they were all buried by other characters I can’t even remember and never cared about. The pacing from one character to another felt too random. If this book were split up a bit, I probably would like any number of them, but all together just made it feel hard to follow. This book is great for fans of deep worldbuilding and complex science fiction.
A while back I did an interview with Short Story Book Club.I’m honestly a huge fan of this interview. First, it focuses on The Power of Words, which I still have free Audible codes for if you’d like to email me for a copy of it. She specifically read my story, Stealing Freedom, but we also talked about the First Amendment, the role of science fiction in society and my time in the military. I honestly think it’s one of the deeper stories anyone’s done about me in some ways. I hope you’ll all check it out. Please like and share the video and subscribe to the podcast. As a note, TW’s name is a bit off, but I’ve spoken to Donna, and she’s working on fixing it (it may be fixed already). Let me know what you think. If anyone has any questions for me after listening, please feel free to ask in the comments below. It was a fascinating discussion.
(NOTE: Again, if you’re wondering where the other For A Few Credits More stories are, please remember I review all books in the order I read them. Don’t worry! You’ll get the rest of the reviews in time.)
Spoiler Free Summary: Colony Lost by Chris Philbrook is the first book in The Ghara Chronicles. Also, it was the M.L.S. Weech 2017 Book Cover of the Year! Humanity has been colonizing planets for generations. Dustin and Melody are newlywed Marines seeking to colonize one last planet so they can retire and start their life together. However, the planet Selva holds a dark, dangerous secret that will change the course of their lives and that of the human race.
Character: So, I have to be honest here, the early pages were a bit hard to stay with. We had a bunch of characters thrown at us very quickly, and it was hard to keep track. Now, I can’t complain; I did the same thing with Caught, and the rewards were similar. Once the characters were introduced, we got great action and wonderfully diverse tension. I love the characters in this story! I thought they were all fascinating and compelling. Once the story got going (and I’d say it took at least 50 pages to get there), I honestly didn’t want to put this book down. The characters were one of two reasons why.
Exposition: This didn’t bother me in the least. It probably wasn’t amazing. I remember an info dump here or there. I’d say the beginning drags a bit because of this, but then it fades, and we’re left to enjoy the action.
World building: So this is my second-favorite part of this book. The way this plot is set up and organized had to have taken meticulous planning. The way this story evolves and the relationship Selva has to the plot is something I don’t honestly like in most stories, but this story did it so well I was pleased. This story isn’t anything like Pernin terms of overall plot, but the way the planet becomes the threat felt akin to the same way Pern’s characters face challenges. Now, the characters in Pern were far more compelling, but it’s honestly unfair to compare my favorite series ever to any other series in that category. Still, the use of science fiction planets as a source of conflict is something rare. Using it in a primarily action-based story is even more unusual, and I loved it.
Dialogue: Philbrook’s characters feel so real, and the dialogue is one of the reasons why. I think service members will feel a connection to mundane conversations in intense situations. I never even saw a hint of combat, but in my work with combat fighters, I noticed a lot of conversation that was oddly common in some pretty miserable situations. This author portrayed that well. No, it’s not the wittiest, sharpest banter you’ll ever read. It might even seem cliche to some, and I don’t know that I’d argue, but I felt right at home with these characters.
Description: This book activated the IMAX high-def, 3-D movie theater in my imagination. It was perfect. If I heard this book got a green light for a movie, I’d oder advance tickets just to see some of the wonderful effects. I honestly felt more in the action than some movies I’ve been to lately. Listen, I hate description. I loath it! Philbrook knows exactly when to provide what detail to keep you interested, squirming, or enraged. It’s not in the amount of description (which is a thing most authors insist on thinking) it’s in the specificity of it. Every sense you have is activated to create a full effect without a half-page tangent on armor, skin, clothes, or whatever.
Overall: If you haven’t already figured it out by now, this book is currently (and likely will be) the best fiction book I’ve read all year! It was compelling and action packed. It has the action and intensity of Aliens, the humorous charm of Tremors, and the world building of Pern. If you like those stories, give this one a shot. I don’t think you’ll regret it. (NOTE: Might have to slog through those first 50 pages, but that’s just par for the course when dealing with scifi.)