Rena Mason’s The Evolutionist

My friend Rena Mason’s debut novel dropped almost two months ago, and I reviewed it for the New York Journal of Books. On a more personal note, one that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the NYJB…I am so goddamn proud of her for pushing this one out of the nest. I’ve known her since WHC ’11 in Austin, when she was just breaking onto the scene and I had debuted my third project (my novella, WILD) mere months earlier.

We have a pretty good relationship as a pair of writers who’ve critiqued each other’s work with brutal honesty and have advised each other on such peripheral matters as web design, social media and pitching. However, I wouldn’t have reviewed the book if I didn’t truly think it kicked ass. Nobody made me do it. She didn’t even send me the copy I read. And while it’s a bit surreal at times, and probably not to everyone’s taste (and honestly, I wouldn’t wipe my ass on some of the books the masses RAVE about), I dare somene to send me a 2013 debut science fiction or horror novel that tops The Evolutionist.

The Evolutionist is a perfect storm of life experience and talent, ending on a somber note with most of the loose ends tied up and just the hint or two of a question raised.

Guest Blog: Science Fantasies I’d Like to Come True by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Utopia

Forget the impulse to say, “Ah, a perfect society would be boring.” It is true that without anything to contrast evil or wrongdoing you cannot effectively determine goodness or altruism to its greatest measure. Yet, imagine a world where political structures actually served the people in the most efficient way possible? Imagine then the citizens of that world accepting they cannot have everything their way all of the time. Imagine no famine, no disease, no violent crimes, no drug overdoses, no psychological or sexual abuse. Not to keep John Lennoning with all these imagines, but imagine that world for a while. Utopia. Everybody is content with their lot in life. Everybody’s dreams are realized. The human race only endeavors to discover more about itself and the universe, to increase science, to calm religious fanaticism, to achieve perfection in everything. I don’t find it as terrifying as some have envisioned—that somehow we’d need to be stripped of our identities in order to achieve the utopian ideal. Negative traits should be amputated from everybody for the good of everybody. Leave every worthwhile trait behind. “And who makes that outrageous decision?” cries the fuming libertarian. Well, that’s the fantasy part. The ideal is discovered and through struggle, agreement and / or reconciliation, it is then employed and we’re all made into more productive, beautiful creatures.

Immortality

Give me a break about the trials of immortality. Often you see the sullen vampire lament for the days of being human, where its flesh and innards could slowly rot or become diseased. To hell with that. I want to see the future. One hundred years is not enough. A thousand is not enough. It would be far more exciting if people chose their own deaths: when, where and why. Suicide would be a civic duty. If you’re bored, you are free to go. If you want to hang out until the end of the universe, it’s all good.

 

Traveling at the speed of light

Alien planets are only getting farther away from us. If we’re going to supersize our imprint on the universe, lightspeed must be achieved soon. I’m not asking much. Lightspeed still doesn’t get you around the universe as quickly as necessary to make trips to potential living worlds. With this option though, we could infest other planets and grow as a species, perhaps signaling other evolutionary paths. Hey, at some point, we might arrive to a planet and come upon a life-form we consider alien but is only a later version of homo sapien that got stranded there. I want twisted stuff like that to happen and freak people out. Without traveling at the speed of light though, we’re just circling the toilet bowl, waiting for our sun to go hypernova. Get on it astrophysicists!

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Now, go buy Ben’s book. 

From Bram Stoker Award winning author Benjamin Kane Ethridge.

June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall– the starting point of her freedom.

But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.

Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.

This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs

CAVEAT: I’ve known the author for several years, and he consulted me regarding some of THIS DARK EARTH‘s military content. In exchange, he designed the cover to my 2009 short story collection, MAGICK & MISERY. I certainly got the better end of that deal–readers love that cover. He even sent me the copy of  the novel I read. Having said that, I wouldn’t have reviewed the book if it sucked, and that’s about all I figure I’d owe him. I think John would agree.

I’ve read a lot of zombie books, and I’ll probably never stop reading them. THIS DARK EARTH does contain a few of zombie fiction’s tried and true plot devices–mainly because acting as though the the zombie apocalypse WOULDN’T bring out the worst in humanity is the height of idiocy. It also contains several great characters–Lucy, Knock-out, Gus, Tessa, Broadsword and Wallis, to name a few. Every part of the book is heartfelt and possessed of a sensitivity I wouldn’t have expected from John–and which, along with John’s unique style of writing, sets the book apart from the rest of the zombie genre.

There’s a slim chance I’ve read a zombie book as good as this one before–like I said, I read a LOT of zombie fiction. THE RISING is probably this good, if you really need a comparison. The Woodbury (Governor) story arc of Kirkman’s WALKING DEAD (though that’s really comparing apples and oranges). But nothing comes to mind as being better. If you’re a horror fan, and even if you’re growing tired of the living dead, pick this one up.

Five Reasons to Pick up CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? (UPDATED)

I won’t hold it against you if you haven’t at least heard of CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? in passing at least once since it dropped in March–but if you’re a fan of genre fiction, I’d be damned surprised if that was the case. You can pick it up in a variety of digital formats (Kindle, for example) at a price that’s nice, but in addition, Amazon’s dropped the paperback price to a mere $11.87 $9.73. That’s around .46/story for some great dark superhero fiction. How great? you might be wondering. How about I give you five reasons to check this joker out:

1. Award-winning/nominated authors. Have you ever read superhero fiction from Bram Stoker Award ™ winners Weston Ochse and Joe McKinney? How about Stoker-nominee Jeff Strand or Endeavor Award finalist Cat Rambo? Well, Cat’s written a few, but near as I can tell, these are the only superhero tales to date from those first three gentlemen. And all four of ‘em are hot commodities. The film rights to Weston’s most recent novel have been optioned (and the book doesn’t even drop until November), Joe’s just dropped the last of his Dead City zombie novels, Cat has a couple short story collections on the block, and I swear to sweet baby Jesus Jeff releases something new every month or two.

2. Discover some new voices.The stories from the previously-mentioned authors certainly command their share of respect in reviews of the anthology, but to be honest with you–I knew the big guns were gonna come through. I was as excited about reading their stories for the first time as I hope you are, but it’s an altogether different sort of beast to crack into the slushpile and read something you didn’t solicit, from an author you’ve never heard of before or haven’t read in a while. And let me tell you, Anthony Laffan, Trisha Wooldridge, Ariyana Spencer and Wayne Helge, among others, will knock you on your backside with their stories as surely as the more-recognized names in the book. And that’s coming from unsolicited public reviews, not just Ye Olde Biased Editor. And somewhere in between the fresh new voices and the critically-acclaimed, there are several pieces by folks like Tim Marquitz, Ed Erdelac, Karina Fabian and William Todd Rose, who are just beginning to receive their due.

3. Theory and execution. Another thing reviewers almost unanimously agree on is that I accomplished the mission I set for myself when I wrote the submission guidelines for the anthology a year and a half ago. I wanted superhero fiction rooted as firmly in reality as a book about mutants, gals in armored suits and super-psychics could get. I wanted to give my readers stories that seemed plausible, representations of what real people would do if they had powers. And I did that. I wanted a good mix of heroes and heroines, of male and female authors, characters of varying degrees of morality and a good mix of powers. I haven’t read a single review yet saying I failed in that–and most hero-loving reviewers find the book to be a breath of fresh air.

4. WEEKS of review site love. At least two review sites devoted a week (or more) worth of their time and programming to spreading the word about CORRUPTS? Dreadful Tales covered every story in the book over the course of five Monday segments in May and June, and Gef Fox devoted a week in August to CORRUPTS-related interviews and reviewing.

5. Bonus material. I wrote a story of my own to include in CORRUPTS? and cut it at the last minute, to make room for another story from an author who had to earn their spot the hard way instead of by being the editor–not that I think an editor contributing to his own antho is automatically wrong, mind you. But in this case I decided to offer the story–the secret origin of a superhero cop’s prostitute sidekick–as a .99 short story, via Amazon. People seem to like it. In fact, since the ‘Zon’s dropped the price of CORRUPTS? paperbacks, I’ll shoot a free digital copy of the short to anyone who sends me proof of purchase for the CORRUPTS? paperback between now and Friday the 28th. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Scaryminds Reviews MAGICK & MISERY!

And apparently, they’re picking up what I’m putting down. Any day I’m mentioned in the same sentence as Stephen King is a good day, as far as I’m concerned. You can, of course, score your own copy on Amazon and a host of other websites, or order it at your local bookstore.

Crisler has the ability to spin a yarn that drags you in via the decent writing and presents a small slice of life that doesn’t require an overly prolonged relationship. I was rocking along to each story as I was surprised by the ability of the Author to switch from the normal situation to the bizarre with a seemingly effortless twist of words.

While the vast majority of the stories concern themselves with killers in various guises, if there’s a common theme throughout the book then for sure it’s how individuals can be driven to slaughter family members or people unlucky enough to find themselves in the antagonist’s path, there are also tales featuring more supernatural elements and even a detour down the Tales From the Crypt path. In Lincoln Crisler’s fictional world it’s a thin line between social norms and the chaos the dark genre brings into your nightmares. For mine Crisler handles the introduction of chaos into the ordered world even better than Stephen King manages it.