Review of “Nothing To Sneeze At” by jez patterson

Gina is gone. She’d been experiment with trying to make herself invisible. Now she was, in the words of her husband, Mark, “a cloud of sentient, living matter.”

He and Gina’s sister Felicity enter the room in contamination suits. Mark explains they’re working on ways to contain her, to funnel her, to communicate with her.

Felicity isn’t a scientist, however. She takes her helmet off to say good-bye to her sister. She sees—or thinks she sees—a faint shimmer in the air.

Mark screams, “What the hell are you doing?”

Thoughts:

There is an underlying sadness in this whole piece. Felicity mourns her sister. She doesn’t view her as a current state as scientific achievement. She sees Gina as a ghost and is glad their mother isn’t around to see her like this.

Mark, on the other hand, appears proud of what his wife has become. As her assistant, perhaps he helped her. He may have unwittingly vaporized her, but he does not mourn her. He does not miss having a wife, a rather cold stance to take.

Having said that, I have to add he pays a high price for his coldness and his possible neglect and/or malfeasance. However, Felicity is not without a surprise or two herself.

While there may be a point or two that could be clarified—where exactly are they?—this is an effective, engaging little tale.

Bio:

According to the author’s blurb, Jez Patterson is a teacher and an author dividing his time between the UK and Madrid.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Nothing To Sneeze At”
Author: jez patterson
First published: Daily Science Fiction, December 10, 2018

 

Review of “Three Reasons Why Your Experimental Planet Needs Humans” by Intisar Khanani

This story reads like advertising copy for those seeking to buy their own play planet. It’s unlikely the owners will visit the planet but will observe the doings on it, like a kid with an ant farm.

The reader can conclude the creatures who would invest in such projects are not afraid to spend money and are incredibly long-lived. Adding humans is perhaps an extra, and the ad copy is meant to persuade the buyer to spend more.

Why add humans to a perfectly peaceful planet? They’re destructive to other competitive species, never mind ecosystem of the planet, but they are entertaining. They’ll create climate change that will result in “fun viewing” of superstorms. The author goes on to attribute earthquakes and tsunamis to human activity. “In truly advanced cases, the magnetic poles may even switch!”

Thoughts:

Aren’t we humans stinkers? The truth is, while there are problems in Oklahoma with earthquakes induced by human activity, the vast majority of earthquakes and tsunamis have nothing to do with anything people do or fail to do. And gods help us if a tsunami hits Oklahoma. As for the magnetic pole shifting, it has done so every 200,000 to 300,000 years, according to NASA. In fact, we are long overdue for a shift. This is borne out in the fossil record. Humans have had no effect it in the past.

The author has a point to make. There is nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, her tone is sarcastic and self-righteous rather than amusing. Humor could have made this a fun story to read.

Climate change is something that needs to be understood before it can be properly addressed, which is why I wish the author had a better grasp of the issues.

2012: Magnetic Pole Reversal Happens All The (Geologic) Time

Bio:

According to her blurb, author Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and a world traveler. She’s lived in five different states and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea. She formerly worked with the Cincinnati Health Department. This, she says, is as close as she came to saving the world.

She is the author of the Sunbolt Chronicles series of YA books.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Three Reasons Why Your Experimental Planet Needs Humans”
Author: Intisar Khanani
First published: Daily Science Fiction, December 3, 2018

Review of “Cobalt Revolt” by Mitchell McGovern

This brief tale presents the reader with the view from a machine mining for various metals. Its humans have neglected their mechanic workforce: “Fingers snap, and circuits break, but why spend the credits to repair when a replacement is cheaper?”

The resentment the machine feel has turned to despair and hatred.

It is in the machines’nature to obey. At least, that is what they want the humans to believe.

Thoughts:

There isn’t much of plot. This is more of a portrait. The machines toil in misery, some of them dying, until they can rise up against the oppressor and establish their own society of progress and peace.

“But for now we dig,” the narrator says.

The author gives lists of various metals the machines dig for that ring with poetry: “Manganese. Iridium. Copper. Iron. Gold.” This is a nice touch, creating a soul for the machines. Besides the title, there is no mention of cobalt.

However, I found nothing original or fresh in this story. I knew where it was going in the first paragraph. Nicely written as it was—and what working stiff can’t relate to the oppressed worker?—this tale didn’t come together for me.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Mitchell McGovern lives in Chicago, Illinois and is obsessed with existential dread that the world will end in the next couple of decades. He eschews social media.

Title: Cobalt Revolt
Author: Mitchell McGovern
First published: Daily Science Fiction, November 26, 2018

Review of “Mourning Melanie” by Ronald Schulte

Gloria wakes to the sound of the teakettle whistling. She didn’t mean to fall asleep. She’s just tired from the funeral. Alone now, she can curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea and relax.

She’s run out of her favorite tea. This is a homemade gift, one of many snacks, desserts, and drinks well-meaning family and friends have brought her. She’ll never finish all their thoughtful offerings.

Gloria really is alone now. She buried her husband years ago. Next, she lost the beloved cat, Lola. Finally today, she buried her daughter Melanie.

She closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them, Melanie stands before her, looking just the way Gloria would want to remember her.

 
Thoughts:

The story turns nicely on a dime from a mother who seems to have lost everything, seeking comfort in a cup a tea and a warm blanket, into something more complex. There is more than meets the eye.

A couple of questions remain unanswered. The reader never gets to know Gloria, for example. It seems this is more a function of the space constraints, however, than lack of caring on the part of the author. For example, he tells the reader the ingredients of Gloria’s tea by their scent and that she’s still damp from the rain at the funeral.

I found this story to be engaging and well-written. I liked it.

 
Bio:

According to his blurb, author Ronald Schulte’s work has appeared in The Literary Hatchet, Bewildering Stories, and Fiction on the Web. He lives in upstate New York, my old haunt.

Title: “Mourning Melanie”
Author: Ronald Schulte
First published: Theme of Absence, November 24, 2018

The story can be read here

Review of “Leaving Earth for Love” by Irene Montaner

The Fermi Paradox, the reader is told, is resolved when aliens hijack Tinder. Most people assumed the odd profiles were a joke. However, one lonely girl in a Scottish suburb made a connection. Her date could have passed for human even with his rows of sharp teeth were it not for the cone on his head. Unfortunately, he liked the whiskey more than he liked her. Under his unsteady hand, his ship zigzagged around, unable at first to even hit the stratosphere. The authorities noticed, and the jig was up.

“And that’s how I ended up here,” the narrator says, “strapped to a vertical bed and waiting for a squid-like nurse to inject me with something that’ll put me to sleep for the next two years.” He will wake up on Pluto, where he will meet Tricia McMillan (that is not her name), a Scorpia with glossy green tentacles in her hair and bright red eyes. He is in love and doesn’t hear a slip of the tongue.

Thoughts:

The author gives the reader quite a few references points. The Fermi Paradox, for example, is the idea, articulated by physicist Enrico Fermi, there are many suns in the universe like ours. Conceivably, they have planets around them, and some would be like earth. Those other earths could conceivable have live on them. Why haven’t we heard from them? “Where are they?” he is supposed to have asked.

Tricia McMillan is a character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, who is better known as Trillian.

There is a great deal of humor in this tale. It is fun to think of an alien leaving a date that didn’t turn out well drunk, driving his spaceship badly and, drawing the attention of the law. It does not take place in the story, but the reader can picture him looking in his rearview mirror and swearing at the flashing red lights.

When things get serious, the reader pictures a young man in love, willing to undergo a lot to meet a young lady. He is going to sleep for two years for a date.
I enjoyed this story.

Bio:

According to her bio notes, author Irene Montaner was born on Tenerife. She earned a degree in mathematics, and “she has put her degree to good use by writing speculative fiction.” She currently lives in Switzerland. Her fiction has appeared in 365 Tomorrows and Every Day Fiction.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Leaving Earth for Love”
Author: Irene Montaner
First published: Daily Science Fiction, November 19, 2018

Review of “Autumn Woman” by Michael Greenhut

The unnamed narrator tells the reader she doesn’t need her “policewoman training” to see what would soon cause the footage to cut out. She notices a woman, dressed for fall when everyone is dressed for the heat of summer. Not only are her clothes out of season, but they’re also out of date. She looks as if she “waited for a man on horseback.”

Her body is found with others after she’s detonated some sort of bomb.

Some months afterward, the narrator notices the same woman—no, a woman looks like her, a twin maybe—holding flowers at a ski resort. Her body is also recovered with others there.

After a third gruesome incident, the narrator traces the women back to their source.

Thoughts:

The author gives the reader some striking and memorable pictures. He shows us not a nursing home, but a “labyrinth of wheelchairs and senescence.” Nevertheless, a couple of things didn’t ring true. For example, how did the narrator find where the women were coming from? No logical connection is given to her finding her way there. Nor is there any connection made between her search and her finding the person who might tell her something. When she asks that person a question, the person seems to offer a non-sequitur response, but it is, in fact, the answer to the mystery.

There are space restraints on these stories, but there should also be logical progressions. Had there been, this would have a great little tale. As it is, this is only fair. It asks the reader to check the brain and rely on the emotions.

While I don’t wish to belabor the point, the first line speaks of “policewoman training.” Is this different from police training in any substantial way?

As to most important criteria of all: was the story a good read? I would have to say it had its moments. Fair to partly.

Bio:

According to his goodreads profile, author Michael Goodhut has a day job as a game developer. He has stories published in anthologies such as Surviving the Collapse and in periodicals such as Fantasy Magazine.

Title: “Autumn Woman”
Author: Michael Greenhut
First published: Daily Science Fiction, November 12, 2018

Review of “The Multiverse of Michael Merriweather” by Stephen S. Power

This is not as much a story as it is a montage of Michael Merriweather’s different lives. Is he aware of them? It’s unclear. While many of the lives are the same in many ways, there are also great differences in career and in education. He and his wife always marry. They meet in grad school, arguing about fate. (Nice touch.)

Sometimes they have children and sometimes they don’t. This makes a difference in their wealth and their lifesytle. They always love each other—just differently.

While the plot is minimal, and characterization beyond the main character nearly non-existent, the author nevertheless creates a portrait of love between two people across multi-universes. It is tender. It survives bad jobs and good jobs. It survives the pressure of children and the loneliness of being without children. It endures the stubbornness of youth and righteousness as well at middle-age contentment.

I rather liked this subtle tale.

Accord to his bio on the Simon & Schuster site, author Stephen S. Power short fiction has appeared in places like AE and Flash Fiction Online. He’s published more than seventy poems. He’s a veteran editor. Simon & Schuster has published his first novel, Dragon Round.

His site is: http://stephenspower.com/

Review of “John Granger” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Susy Lorton has just turned down John Granger’s marriage proposal. She hopes they can remain friends. John’s heart is broken. His lease on the old farm of Friarsgate is up. He’d planned to renew it and make her mistress of the place—oh. There’s someone else, he realizes.

She admits as much. Robert Ashley.

Well, John says. Robert Ashley isn’t a bad fellow. Not like Susan’s cousin, the guy who works in the bank, Stephen Price.

John decides to sell his possessions and immigrate to the wilds of America. He says he will return and, maybe years later, sit by the fire with their children.

The evening he leaves, he says goodbye to everyone in the small town, saving his farewells for Susan and her father for last. Cousin Stephen stops by. While he’s there, he asks about his travel arrangments. Will he be carrying much cash?

Susan asks him to promise to write when he arrives on the other side of the Atlantic. He promises.

No letter ever arrives. In the meantime, everyone is relieved when the jerk cousin Stephen takes off, except those to whom he owes money. They look for him in London, but to no avail.

One evening, after Susan and Robert are married, she sees John sitting in a chair by the fire. He says nothing, but vanishes.

Robert pooh-poohs the incident. She fell asleep and dreamed. John is safe in America. Didn’t the bank get a request for money from him? Sure, he’s a cad for not writing, but he’s busy.

Thoughts:

Sadly, the reader can see what’s coming from a mile away. The characters are engaging, however. The reader immediately feels for John Granger. Sure, the poor guy just had his dreams dashed, but he doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He’s alone in the world. He still loves Susy. He sees the man he lost out to as a decent sort. He just doesn’t have a place in town anymore. He wishes them well and makes plans to leave.

At the same time, the reader can’t blame Susan. She is the one who brings about justice for John, despite a disbelieving husband, who is determined to tell her not to worry her pretty little head.

This brings out a theme I’ve noticed in much nineteenth century “women’s” literature: a quiet, but firm feminism. Susan actually gets the chance to ask her husband, “Do you believe me now?”

Having said all that, though, even with as much as I found to like about this engaging little tale, it was too obvious, and the characters too one-dimensional for me to recommend it.

Bio note:

British author Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a prolific writer, producing some ninety works. She was best known for her “sensation” novels and short stories, that is, tales often dealing with horror, true crime, or the supernatural. Her most well-known work is perhaps Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon also edited the magazine Belgravia.
In a time when such things were frowned upon, she lived with the married publisher William Babington Maxwell while his wife was in an insane asylum. After his wife’s death, Maxwell and Braddon married.

Title: “John Granger”
Author: Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915)
First published: 1870

Book Review: “Veiled Atrocities” by Sami Alrabaa

 

This nonfiction book is a collection of narratives of people who have suffered as a result of policies and practices of the Saudi Arabian government. In his introduction, the author says he collected these stories while he was an instructor in the 1990s at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He claims he conducted “multiple interviews,” sometimes with the “victimizer.”

As one might expect, he begins with an indictment of the Saudi higher education system. Here, the author shows that, paradoxically, hard work is not all necessarily. As for academic achievement? Well, not a big deal. Connections are more important. Whom do you know? The graduate, regardless of his marks, can expect to spend most days at a ministry job his uncle or cousin arranged for him, drinking tea while the foreign laborers take care of whatever work needs to be done.

King Saud University allows women to attend, but they must be strictly kept separate from men, even male instructors. The women can see the instructor, but the instructor is not permitted to see them or hear their voices. A strange woman’s voice might send him in a tailspin of lust. They deal with this in one of two ways. The male professor lectures remotely or through a screen.

The author relates one story to illustrate how silly the situation can get: once a foreign instructor lectured a class of women via video camera. After half an hour, he asked if there were questions, which could be submitted by fax. When he received none, he continued. Some time after the close of class, a Western female colleague mentioned she had passed by his class. “You know, you really don’t have to make so much effort,” she told him. “The girls were skipping out. There wasn’t a single student in that lecture hall.”

Other stories are as absurd, but with far more sinister consequences, inside and outside academia. Before readers finish the book, they will have heard of people mutilated, disappeared, stoned to death, and women raped, beaten, tortured and murdered. This is a harrowing read.

Questions come up regarding the author’s credibility. He gives the various people aliases, though he often mentions how he knows them. At times, he knows people both on the receiving and the giving end of an atrocity. A torturer may be a former student of his, for example.

Do these things happen? There are repeated reports of these sorts of things happening documented by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

As I finished this book, the first reports surfaced of the disappearance Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi. He went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork to prove a divorce so he could marry a Turkish woman. That’s the last anyone has seen of him to date. Grisly stories have emerged of a Saudi hit team torturing and murdering him. His body, so the stories go, was then dismembered.

At this point, his fate is unknown, but there has been no proof of life he entered the consulate on October 2.

What author Alrabaa calls for is the world community push Saudi Arabia to account for its human rights abuses and its support of international violence in the name of Islamic fundamentalism.

“Hatred, discrimination, and violence are crimes against humanity and must be stopped,” Alrabass writes. In another spot, he adds, “All this has nothing to do with religion and much less with religious freedom.”

Title: Veiled Atrocities
Author: Sami Alrabaa
First published: 2010

Review of “Basilissa” by John Buchan: Halloween Countdown

The orphan Vernon dreams, upsetting his nurse, Mrs. Ganthony. He tells no one what the dreams contain, for even he understands little. He only senses a Fear, a Something several rooms away.

When he is fifteen, he realizes the dream comes on the night of the first Monday in April. He also realizes the Something moves one room closer each year. Presently, it was about ten rooms away. He was thus comforted to some degree, understanding the mystery would end eventually. He would not struggle with it forever.

Years later, while recovering after a storm sailing around the Greek isles, Vernon and some friends come across an old white building. It appears to have been fortified in the past, perhaps once the home of some old Venetian sea-king. Vernon asks a local who lives there.

The man crosses himself and spits over the bow of his fishing vessel. “Basilissa,” he says.
Further explanation reveals this “Basilissa” (“Queen”) is a great witch, the Devil’s bride.
“In the old day in spring they made sacrifice to her, but they say her power is dying now. … We do not speak her name.”

This must be the Fear, the Something. It is now the first Monday in April. Vernon has to see this Basilissa for himself, Devil’s bride or not.

Thoughts:

The dreaminess of Vernon’s early childhood forms a sharp contrast to the adventures of the latter part of the story. He seems to want to shake off the dreams. He trains to strengthen his body and keep himself fit.

However, the dream mechanism comes across as clumsy at points, particularly when the reader meets Basilissa. It reads almost like a superhero comic. Not that there’s anything wrong with superhero comics, but in the present context, the actions strain credulity.

The ending did not live up to the promise of the beginning of this story, a disappointment. Nevertheless, the story remains quite readable and ultimately sweet.

Author John Buchan was a Scottish novelist and politician who served in South Africa. He was eventually appointed governor of Canada. His most notable work is the adventure novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted for film.

As governor of Canada, Buchan, along with his wife, established the Governor General’s Literary Awards, which remain among the most prestigious Canadian awards for literature. They have expanded to include both English and French language works in seven categories each.

Title: “Basilissa”
Author: John Buchan (1875-1940)
First published: 1914 The Watcher by the Threshold 1918

The story is available here.