Review of “8-Bit Free Will” by John Wiswell

Image by 13smok from Pixabay

Plot:

The Hollow Knight and HealBlob form a video game duo, one an attacker and the other a healer. Together, they fight players and usually die a quick death before they have a chance to become aware of themselves or each other. The player Trent flips back and forth between the game, IMs with his sort-of-not-really girlfriend Jayla, and music videos.

The Hollow Knight and HealBlob are left alone. They introduce themselves. And jump several levels up after their exchange.

They meet goblins, who want to know how they leveled up. They don’t know.

Thoughts:

The format takes a bit of effort. The opening paragraphs describe the transient and redundant nature of the video game antagonists in surreal, poetic language:

They exist, then don’t exist, then exist again. They are monsters where the game’s probability fields call for them, attached to every tile of the dungeon. They are invisible to the player, whether they are there or not, until combat. If they’re lucky, they’ll get the chance to die.

The player always gets to exist, has always existed, and may as well always exist. The Hollow Knight and HealBlob don’t exist again until the player starts struggling with the other enemies. Then the Hollow Knight and HealBlob are re-spawned, to die in battle and smooth out the difficulty curve. They don’t exist long enough to know they’re in love before the player strikes.


While the story is one narrative, that is, the quest of the Hollow Knight and HealBlob, it comes in chunks that appear in turns like the description of a video game and a transcription of a text message exchange. Reading the latter isn’t bad, as one can skim over the repetitive text without losing much time or energy. However, there is no option when listening to the story. You’re going to hear a blow-by-blow description of the fight, the precise number of damage points inflicted, and the healing points offered.

Perhaps to a gamer, this is gripping reading, but to a plebian such as myself, it hits the ear as repetitive and snooze-worthy, as does text messages with the heading and time stamps. To take my bellyaching to the nitpicking stratosphere, “<3” is read as “less than three.”

Setting aside my bitching, this is a moving story, made all more poignant on Thanksgiving during a pandemic. Unfortunately, the telling of it got in the way for me. Reading it added a dimension that the audio did not have. After reading it, I listened to it again—and finished it this time. I’m glad I did.

For those observing the day, I hope you got the chance to be with your families or at least talk to them.

The story can be listened to and/or read here.

Title: “8-Bit Free Will”
Author: John Wiswell
Narrator: Wilson Fowlie
Hosts: Matt Dovey and Wilson Fowlie
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 38 mins
Rated: PG
First published: November 24, 2020, Podcastle #654

Review of “Eyespots” by Shannon Fay

Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

Plot:

Aurea the alien is taking Entomology 101. To everyone else, she looks like a beautiful human. The guys all move in, but she rebuffs them. She only has time for Clara, a creative writing major. Aurea’s persona as an alien, while cute, begins to wear thin.

Thoughts:

This is an extremely short piece, with everything working up to a single punchline. In the meantime, the author creates two intriguing characters who engage the reader, even if one shuns all the would-be dates. Clara, the narrator, has noteworthy things to say about herself. Often, narrators are relegated to observer or foil status.

The ending may not be a surprise, but it is an enjoyable, quick read.


Bio:

According to her blurb, author Shannon Fay is a Clarion West graduate and writer living in Nova Scotia. She has written tons of short stories and is currently working on a historical fantasy novel. She can be found online at @shannonlfay or on Patreon at patron.com/shannonfay.

“Eyespots” can be read here.


Title: Eyespots
Author: Shannon Fay
First published: November 23, 2020, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “Lost Continent” (1951)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it via Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Plot:

An unmanned experimental atomic-powered rocket has disappeared somewhere in the South Pacific. Major Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) and Lieutenant Danny Wilson (Chick Chandler) are called upon to ferry a team of scientists responsible for the rocket to retrieve what important data they can from it. Nolan is entertaining a date (Marla Stevens) he doesn’t remember well when the knock comes on his door. Wilson is already in his civvies, ready to start a leave. A military policeman from the Air Force meets him at his front door.

In addition to scientists Dr. Michael Rostov (John Hoyt), Dr. Robert Phillips (Hugh Beaumont), and Dr. Stanley Briggs (Whit Bissell), is Sergeant Willie Tatlow (Sid Melton), an airplane mechanic who is afraid of heights and carries a parachute with him. He also serves coffee aboard the plane. The scientists have a camera and a Geiger counter.

The scientists have calculated the area where the rocket should have run out of fuel. When Major Nolan spots an island, he diverts toward it. All the electrical components in the plane fail—even Sgt. Tatlow’s watch stops. The plane nosedives and crash lands on trees, albeit mostly intact. No one is hurt, except for Briggs, who receives a minor cut on his leg. He tells Nolan that while the plane was out of control, his Geiger counter picked up intense radioactivity. Once they land, readings return to normal. Tatlow’s watch starts up again.

They exit the plane and make their way to a village of grass huts, only to find it deserted except for a young girl (Acquanetta) and her younger brother. The village chief decided to get the villagers away after the “firebird” streaked across the sky and landed on the sacred mountain. She and her brother stayed behind to take care of their father, who has since passed away. She escorts them to the sacred mountain but will not climb it because it’s “taboo,” and no one ever comes back from it alive.

Our heroes begin to climb the mountain. And continue to climb. And continue. And continue… Seriously. The climbing takes up about thirty minutes of screen time.

Atop the mountain is a prehistoric world with an aggressive brontosaurus (now generally referred to as Apatosaurus), a couple of pugnacious triceratopses, an unfortunate pterodactyl, and, coincidentally, a rocket sticking out of the ground.

Thoughts:

The opening sequences with Joel and the robots cracking wise are cute. They refer to several old television shows that have nothing to do with the present movie but are appropriate. While the atomic-powered rocket (…stock footage…) blasts off at White Sands proving grounds, the viewer hears, “Jane, stop this crazy thing.”

One gripe I have is the MST3K crew is they seemed to talk over the movie dialogue to the point of annoyance. Granted, the viewer isn’t missing out on Shakespearian prose, but perhaps the scientist and military types could have explained why they went by plane to recover information from a rocket that went down in an unknown location in the South Pacific, mindful that the South Pacific is mostly ocean—and a rather deep one at that. Their detection and retrieval equipment? A camera and a Geiger counter.

So what if that doesn’t make sense? It’s the journey, right? That is, all that climbing. At one point, the team has to scale an escarpment by rope. Nolan lassoes a protruding rock. One member is pulled up onto the ledge with his rear end on prominent display. In the back, Dr. Phillips (Beaumont, who will later play Ward Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver) laughs ungraciously. Who would have thought Beaver’s dad was so mean?

One member falls while another is trying to help him up. He disappears, screaming into a thick mist, leaving a perfect fuzzy man-sized outline in the haze. This is effective. As a viewer, you buy that this poor unfortunate has just met his end.

On the top of the mountain—and there is indeed a top—our heroes find a lush prehistoric jungle. In the theatrical release, the film is given a green tint at this point. This is not the case for the versions shown on television or MST3K. Some DVD versions are supposed to have restored this. No one mentions munchkins coming out to advise our heroes to follow the yellow brick road, however.

The special effects used to create the monsters will disappoint anyone in 2020, but for 1951, they seemed to have done what they could.

The film seems to have borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 The Lost World. It was adapted for film as early as 1925. Both probably owe debts to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The writers took stabs at creating characters the viewer will find interesting if not always sympathetic. The viewer wants the mission to succeed. Some personal information is revealed. Overall, though, this has the feel of haste. It could have been more engaging if there were less climbing, of course, and other challenges. There were fun moments and some humor, such as well Nolan is trying to recall when he saw his date and which discussion of his work he recited to her.

I would keep this movie for when there is nothing else to watch.




Title: Lost Continent (1951)

Directed by
Sam Newfield…(as Samuel Newfield)

Writing Credits
Richard H. Landau…(screenplay)
Carroll Young…(story)
Orville H. Hampton…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Cesar Romero…Maj. Joe Nolan
Hillary Brooke…Marla Stevens
Chick Chandler…Lt. Danny Wilson
John Hoyt…Michael Rostov
Acquanetta…Native Girl

Released: August 17, 1951
Broadcast Mystery Science Theater: May 25, 1991
Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Review of “Honeybee and the Blot” by Logan Thrasher Collin

Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay 

Plot:

Honeybee remembers first meeting the Blot when he told her she was the most beautiful insect he’d ever seen. He stroked her antennae with a tendril of darkness. He said they belonged together.

A machine built to serve humanity, Honeybee never thought of belonging with anyone.

The Blot convinced her she is more than a mere servant of humanity. With her by his side, they could conquer the galaxy. In fact, he needs her to bring him human souls, so he can build the weapons to succeed in this conquest and give her revenge against her oppressors.

Honeybee has been bringing the Blot souls. She realizes they are people with loved ones and children but tells herself her love for the Blot is more important. However, she also notes those weapons for conquest of the galaxy don’t seem to be appearing.

Thoughts:

The author is depicting an emotionally abusive relationship between two unlikely beings.

The reader is not told much about the nature or origin of the Blot. Where is he from? What does he do when he’s not sending hapless Honeybee out to harvest human souls for him? It’s unlikely he’s out to conquer the galaxy or gives a damn about oppressive humans. He likes to munch on souls and travels through wormholes.

Honeybee is perhaps naïve, but she was created with a narrow purpose, that is, to serve humans. She doesn’t need to think more deeply than that, yet she does.

One of the nice touches of the story is that the author shows the deep conflicts in such relationships. The Blot promises lovemaking as a reward is she brings him more souls. She’s beginning to have doubts about him but can’t help look forward to making love.

On one level, this is a bizarre little piece about impossible space beings. On another, this feels like it’s a story of someone you know from work or school. I found it quite effective.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Logan Thrasher Collins is a synthetic biologist, futurist, author, and student. His poetry has been published in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, Abyss & Apex Magazine, Mithila Review, Silver Blade, and elsewhere. His scientific research has been published in ACS Biochemistry and in Biological Cybernetics. You can learn more about Logan on his website: https://logancollinsblog.com/.

“Honeybee and the Blot” can be read here.

Title: “Honeybee and the Blot”
Author: Logan Thrasher Collin
First published: November 20, 2020, Theme of Absence

Review of “Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey

Photo by Danny Lines on Unsplash

Plot:

This is presented to the reader almost as a journalistic piece, narrated in the first person by an unnamed person who interviews and portrays several people in a small town about differing views of traditional religion across generations.

The elders wonder why the young people don’t take the old ways more seriously. Without those willing to offer the sacrifices and recite the proper chants, the “Elder Dark will flood the world and shackle humanity to an eternal yoke of madness.”

Thoughts:

This is a delightful absurdist piece with roots in Lovecraftian horror. In just a few words, the author captures the silly self-importance of the older generation and the anxiety of the millennial generation.

At the traditional orgy that marks the Approach of Winterdark—more commonly known as the fall equinox—the faithful strip naked and don red hoods to evoke feelings of insignificance and remind supplicants they are only “anonymous flesh to the Watchers Just Beyond.” Our narrator recounts hearing the man who invited him, Bob Rawlins, discuss his DIY projects and school board elections as the sun sets.

One of the characters is Kathy Halton, Honorary Senator for the Sunken State of Hggibbia. Because she represents the Many Drowned Dead, she understands better than most the cost of failure to hold back the horror beyond the Pierced Veil. Her interview with the narrator provides some lovely satire.

The ending depicts a way the religion may be perpetuated even upon the most lukewarm adherents.

Heath Miller, who read the story, depicts the many different characters subtly and nicely. I enjoyed the telling.

Podcastle offers content warning for some violence and sexual content.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Matt Dovey lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children, and despite being a writer, he still hasn’t found the right words to express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.

His surname rhymes with “Dopey,” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s an associate editor at PodCastle, a member of Codex and Villa Diodati, and has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts, Analog, and Diabolical Plots.

The story can be listened to/read here.


Title: Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?
Author: Matt Dovey
Narrator: Heath Miller
Host: Peter Behravesh
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 19 minutes, 50 seconds
First published: Originally published by Diabolical Plots
Published by Podcastle November 17, 2020
Rated R
PodcastleContent warning for some violence, sexual content

Review of “Apple” by L. S. Johnson

Image by Arthur Rackham
Originally the image was published in the following book:Wagner, Richard (translated by Margaret Amour) (1910). The Rhinegold and the Valkyrie. London:William Heinemann, New York: Doubleday, Page 160., Public Domain
Yes, this is Brynhild awaiting Siegfried to come cut her out of her armor. (Things didn’t go well for them), but there is some continuity.

Plot:

A thirteenth fairy emerges, adding an unknown quantity to the established fairies such as Spring and Summer, Winter and Fall. The others arrived in pairs. She is alone. She doesn’t know her purpose, but this is not a significant impediment. Dawn (who’d been up the longest and wanted a nap) pointed to the nearest object. She decides to call the newcomer Apple. The others agree.

The twelve set Apple up with a cottage in the woods and show her how to wash, dress, and feed herself. They teach her the secrets of fire. Without an explanation, Crone, who is “wiser than you,” gives her a spindle.

Having established Apple in her new home, the twelve other fairies promise to visit often and take their leave.

Apple tends to her woods by suggestion. She cannot demand, for example, that trees blossom in the spring. Her area of the woods prospers. Her sisters might ask her purpose, but she doesn’t know. Isn’t it enough that she simply is?

One day, she hears the sound of the plodding of hooves in the woods. This differs from the sound of the usual purposeful riders. When she looks, she sees the rider is barely hanging on. She brings the horse to her cottage and suggests it graze outside while she brings the rider inside. She deduces from his foul smell that this is sickness, a condition her sisters have told her about. She relieves the man of his armor and lets him rest in her bed.

After he has drunk some water, he grabs her wrist. She will never remember much of what happens afterward, but the bruises on her wrist remain.

Thoughts:

If your ears perked up at the intersection of fairies and spindles, you were paying attention. The story appears to be based, in part, on the Sleeping Beauty/Briar Rose fairy tales. It is not a kiddie story, however. Podcastle offers a content warning for sexual assault and gender-based slurs. I will add that while there are no graphic sexual scenes, there is one instance of abusive language, which is appropriate in the context. Still, this is not a story for the kiddies.

I liked that this is told from the point of view of the fairy, who, in the most familiar telling of the story, cursed an innocent child to die when she pricked her finger on the needle of a spindle. What was all that about? This story provides an answer. It also takes Apple on a journey of discovery she doesn’t even realize she’s set out on. This is finely crafted writing, engaging the reader (or listener) from beginning to end.

The choice of “Apple” for the fairy’s first name echoes back to the stories of Eden. When she is Apple, she is innocent and cares for a forest. When things go wrong, and she is not Apple, the forest suffers.

The narrator, Tatiana Grey, tells the story clearly. She’s easy to understand. One distraction is her depiction of male voices. Her readings of the male characters sound like parody, as if she’s holding the character up to ridicule. Granted, there are no sympathetic men in the story, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthy of belittlement.

This is a minor point in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable story.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author L.S. Johnson lives in Northern California, where she feeds her cats by working in a library. She is the author of the Chase & Daniels series of gothic novellas. Her first collection, Vacui Magia, won the North Street Book Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her second collection, Rare Birds, is now available. Find her online and sign up for her newsletter at http://www.traversingz.com.

“Apple” can be listened to and read here.



Title: “Apple”
Author: L. S. Johnson
Narrator: Tatiana Grey
Host: Setsu Uzume
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 1 hour, 8 minutes
Rating: R
First published: F Is for Fairy, from Poise and Pen Press
Podcastle #652
November 11, 2020

Review of “For the Peace” by Uri King-Levy

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Plot:

Sudhir is leaving, part of a migration to someplace in the sky. Just exactly why isn’t clear until the end. A Scholar, he carries bags with tassels that contain the Memories of many different peoples. He meets a small alley girl, who, much to his dismay, lights a pipe of sweetleaf. He fights the urge to take her with him. He remembers other people he’s met along the way.

Thoughts:

What makes this story memorable is the portrayal of different people: the girl in the alley who lights up a pipe and the fisherman who touches foreheads with Sudhir and tells him, “You’re the future.”

The ending is not credible on two fronts. To describe those will require spoilers. To read spoilers, highlight the passage below. Or, ignore.

Begin spoilers:

On the first front, the ship is forced to carry more passengers than anticipated. Does that mean that people in other villages are left out? Or does that mean that the ship leaves with a heavier load than planned for? In either instance, bad things.

Secondly, how does Sudhir have time to teach all the other people the information in the Memories, especially after making his way to the front of the line?

End spoilers.

The story displays a lovely sense of compassion and duty to others. Sudhir maintains his composure throughout. All of this is admirable and enjoyable to read, as are the portraits of humanity. The solution just didn’t work for me.

Bio:

According to their blurb, author Uri King-Levy is a nonbinary Jewish author from California. They spend their days writing weird fiction, playing with their pet rats, and rescuing spiders barehanded. You can follow them on Twitter @FarOffTidbits, where they post microfiction, snippets of longer fiction, and guides on alien life.

The story can be read here.

Title: “For the Peace”
Author: Uri King-Levy
First published: November 10, 2020, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “Them” (1954)

from YouTube

This was last Saturday pizza and bad movie night’s offering. Good pizza and a flawed but enjoyable movie.

Plot:

A pilot (an uncredited John Close) in a spotter plane searches the New Mexico desert for a child who’s been seen wandering alone. Following him in a patrol car are Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Trooper Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake). When they find the girl (Sandy Descher), she is walking along in her bathrobe, clutching a broken doll. She does not answer the officers’ calls or respond to them in any way. They surmise she’s in shock and call for an ambulance.

The pilot alerts them to a trailer and a car not far away. He doesn’t see any people around. The officers guess the little girl came from the trailer and drive there.

When they arrive, they find one wall of the trailer collapsed, as if it were blown or pulled out. The inside of the trailer is in shambles. They find bloody clothes. This was not a robbery, as piles of money remain untouched. A recently-fired handgun turns up. All its ammunition has been expended. They also find cloth fragments and pieces that match the little girl’s damaged doll. Oddly, sugar cubes are spilled all over the floor.

As the little girl is being loaded into an ambulance, they hear an odd, high-pitched noise. Is it the wind? While they look elsewhere, the little girl sits bolt upright.

Thoughts:

The opening scenes of the movie are creepy, long before there’s a hint of danger. The viewer sympathizes with the little girl, wandering around in the desert by herself, clutching her broken doll. What has happened to her? What scared her so badly?

Later, it becomes apparent that her entire family is dead, and she must have witnessed their deaths. It’s not clear whether Sgt. Peterson has children, but he immediately takes care of her. He fits the pieces of her doll together, confirming the worst. It won’t be the last time he acts to protect a stranger’s children.

Finding the trailer and later a wrecked drugstore adds the air of creepiness. A wall in the drugstore has been ripped out, like the wall of the trailer. With a windstorm blowing, the lights sway inside the store. A radio news program blares. There’s no sign of life. Once again, there’s sugar all over the floor—this time from a knocked-over barrel.

A couple of things detracted from the nice creepy atmosphere. First was the sight of the ant-monsters. They’re supposed to be nine to twelve feet long. They just looked… goofy. There’s no other word for it. I suppose it’s hard to come up with a convincing nine-foot ant, so I won’t belabor the point.

However, when the viewer first sees scientist Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon) descending the ladder from the military plane that brings her and her scientist father (Edmund Gwenn) to New Mexico, her skirt gets caught on something, exposing her legs. This gives everyone a chance to ogle her. The first view of the giant ant head appearing over a hill is above Pat’s head. Of course, she’s initially oblivious. When she does see it, she screams, then starts running away in a skirt and heels. She falls. Twice. Oh, dear. What a clumsy, hysterical little girl. She needs someone big and strong like Sheriff Matt Dillon—I mean, Agent Graham—to watch out for her. Later, when scientific knowledge is required, Pat gets a chance to stand up to him.

Having said all that, I have to add this is overall a solid, engaging film. The viewer cares about the characters. Some thought went into the plot. Except for a single scene where an ant plays with a human ribcage, the ants are scarier off-screen than on. It’s the first of the radiation-induced giant bug flicks.

One treat is a few brief appearances by actors who would become well-known for different roles. Fess Parker is a gung-ho Air Force pilot who would later go on to play both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. As a resident of California, I remember him from jury duty orientation films. Dick York, the first Darrin Stephens on the television show Bewitched, shows up in a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it part. Another don’t-blink goes to Leonard Nimoy, he of “Live long and prosper” fame.

I liked this movie, goofy ants and all.


Title: Them (1954)

Directed by
Gordon Douglas

Writing Credits
Ted Sherdeman…(screenplay)
Russell S. Hughes…(adaptation) (as Russell Hughes)
George Worthing Yates…(story)

Cast (in credits order)
James Whitmore…Sgt. Ben Peterson
Edmund Gwenn…Dr. Harold Medford
Joan Weldon…Dr. Patricia Medford
James Arness…Robert Graham
Onslow Stevens…Brig. Gen. Robert O’Brien

Released: June 19, 1954
Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Review of “Lucky” by Thomas Gaffney

image by Hucklebarry from Pixabay

Plot:

While visiting the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with her father, Mackenzie spots a carnation pink and forest green tent— her favorite crayon colors. It stands in an out-of-the-way place under an ash tree. Her father is distracted by a bosomy woman dressed as a character from the Witcher, but she manages to drag him to the tchotchke table by the tent.

The merchant draws a set of dice from a black satin bag and hands them to Mackenzie, not to sell, but for her to wish on and roll. Depending on the roll, her wish might come true.

The wooden dice are old, chipped, and unexpectedly heavy.

The merchant tells her there are rules. Because Mackenzie has touched the dice, she must now roll them. She must name her wish aloud and repeat it. For her part, the merchant has to answer all her questions.

Thoughts:

This is a creepy set-up. The dice are clearly enchanted. Mackenzie compares the dice to George Washington’s teeth—if he had wooden teeth. Who knows what’s real anymore? Do the dice determine one’s fate or merely reveal it?

The boy who rolled the dice before Mackenzie wished to be a dragon slayer. What will happen to him?

Mackenzie is unafraid. Her parents tell her she is the luckiest person they know. All the while, her father (for some reason only called “Mr. Burns”) tries to pull Mackenzie away from the dice and the merchant.

I liked the creepy atmosphere, though I found the “rules” around the dice a bit of a stretch. The ending was, for me, unsatisfying. The punishment did not fit the crime.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Thomas Gaffney was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He fell in love with horror and storytelling while reading a beat-up copy of Stephen King’s IT. Gaffney survived twelve years of Catholic school before embarking on several careers—including computer programmer, barista, and account manager—while writing in his spare time. His collection of short stories, Stranger Things Have Happened, was a 2020 Book Excellence Award winner for Horror, a 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist for E-Book Fiction, and a 2019 New Apple Literary official selection for Short Stories.

Gaffney compares himself to the character of Henry Bemis, a bookish man played by Burgess Meredith in impossibly thick glasses in the “Time Enough at Last” episode of the original Twilight Zone.

I hope his story is not as sad.

He currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife and (he says) spends too much time and money in random coffee shops.

“Lucky” can be read here


Title: “Lucky”
Author: Thomas Gaffney
First published: November 6, 2020, Theme of Absence

Review of “Battle Ground” by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #17)

from goodreads

Plot:

Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only wizard in the phone book. He specializes in finding things. He once ran a detective agency but now has a less-than-voluntary gig with the Mab, the Fairy Queen of Winter. This gives him certain powers and protections, but it also leaves him in Mab’s obligation.

The book opens with Harry, his dear friend and love interest, Karrin Murphy, and a few others, returning to Chicago by boat. They expect the invasion of the last Titan, Ethniu, who is armed with the ultra-destructive Eye of Balor. Supporting her are allied peoples and beings of the sea known as the Fomor. They are all hell-bent on the destruction of Chicago, Harry’s hometown.

Chicago is darkened because Ethniu has already disrupted the power grid in the preceding book, Peace Talks. Harry is approaching the dock in his brother’s boat, The Water Beetle, running—slowly—without lights to avoid detection by the Fomor. At one point, the boat stops moving forward, but not because of engine malfunction. Has he run aground? Harry steps out of the wheelhouse to inspect the foredeck. He almost trips over some cables… those aren’t cables, but tentacles. A kraken is squeezing the ship, about to make it scrap wood.

The party isn’t even started.

A couple of personal issues arise. Most serious is brought up by fellow wizard Carlos Ramirez, a Warden of the White Council who wants to know about the company Harry keeps—vampires, werewolves, and fairies.

Thoughts:

This is book seventeen in the Dresden Files. The books generally do not make good stand-alones and should be read in order. If you have not read any of the Dresden Files, this is not the place to start. Further complicating matters, it’s the conclusion of a storyline begun in Peace Talks. A whole cast of recurring characters fills the book.

What makes the series interesting and entertaining is Harry Dresden himself. In general, urban fantasy is not high on my list of things to read, but I have enjoyed the Dresden Files for years. Harry has a wicked sense of humor. He’s an animal lover and has a soft spot for kids. He’s good at what he does but knows he’s not the best. With Ethniu—a Titan—it’s apparent to all he’s punching above his weight class, but then, so is everybody else. Harry has a few tricks up his sleeve, but will they suffice? How are they going to defeat her? Can they kill a Titan?

Usually, I can blaze through one of these books in a couple of days. They’re fun and silly without being trivial. Harry often gets his rear end handed to him. Good thing wizards recover quickly. He has friends, not sidekicks.

This book, however, was a bit of a slog for me. It is mortal battle starting from Harry tripping of the tentacles on the Water Beetle nearly to the closing pages, almost without a break. If Harry isn’t participating, he is narrating what he sees. He never uses the phrase, but it occurred to me at nearly every new chapter: “What fresh hell is this?”

The book also includes a short story, “Christmas Eve,” which takes place after the battles of the book. On the long night before the big day, the mechanically-challenged Dresden assembles a bicycle for his daughter, Maggie. A couple of visitors stop by, including Kris Kringle, who is not Santa Claus. It’s cute and sentimental, in complete contrast to the battle narrative.

Having said that, will I read the next book? Oh, stars and stones, yes. Harry and his world are just too much fun.





Title: Battle Ground
Series: Dresden Files
Author: Jim Butcher
Approx. 500 pages
Genres: Mystery, Fantasy Fiction, Urban fantasy, Contemporary fantasy
First published: September 29, 2020