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One of the sadder things about the science fiction and fantasy genre is that readers often overlook older stories and novels, choosing to chase new releases instead. This anthology, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, seeks to right that wrong by reprinting stories that were originally published between 1956-2011. (For the most part, they’re closer to 1956.)

Some of the stories are hilarious, some are great, some aren’t. This anthology is an excellent way to get to know great authors from the decades past, but a few of the stories leave a lot to be desired, which is why I’m giving it only 4 stars instead of 5.

Brief story synopses:

“The Third Level” by Jack Finney: an average Joe time-travels when he discovers a hidden third level of the Grand Central Station. A fun story that shows not all time travel fiction needs to be complicated.

“The Cosmic Charge Account” by C. M. Kornbluth: a little old lady with latent psychic abilities reads a self-help book and decides to change her universe. Literally. The book’s pompous writer and a young publisher head out to stop the disaster in this hilarious, quirky and surreal story that has many genuinely “laugh out loud” moments.

“The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight: the world’s last sociopath is all alone in the futuristic utopia. An unusual, sad and tragic short story.

“The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson: a teacher gets curious when one of her first-graders spends all her time playing with an invisible magic box. A “soft” sci-fi story that explores the human nature instead of science or technology.

“The Prize of Peril” by Robert Sheckley: in a world where new laws make it legal for reality TV shows to kill their contestants for the promise of prize money, one man is on the run from a gang of murderers while the country cheers on. An excellent story that combines “The running man” and “Hunger games.”

“—All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein: A man in charge of resolving temporal paradoxes gets assigned a particularly challenging case… This story gets better each time you read it – the time travel paradox it describes is one of the best I’ve seen yet!

“A Kind of Artistry” by Brian W. Aldiss: In the strange distant future with its matriarchal society, genetic engineering and space exploration, one man is trying to do his best. A fairly long and disturbing story that features the mother of all Oedipus complexes. Probably my least favorite in this anthology.

“Green Magic” by Jack Vance: In a world where magic is commonplace and anyone can study it, one man wants even more as he follows his great uncle’s research on a new type of magic. A well written cautionary tale that reminds us all to be careful what we wish for.

“Narrow Valley” by R. A. Lafferty: a Native American enchants his tiny plot of land to make it inaccessible by just about anybody – as an enterprising 20th-century family is about to find out. A goofy story that makes fun of just about everything under the sun.

“Sundance” by Robert Silverberg: a human scientist that’s supposed to eradicate an entire species of cute little creatures to terraform a new planet begins to have his doubts… An unusually written, deep and truly intelligent short story about the morality of terraforming and the dangers of the human-centered worldview.

“The Attack of the Giant Baby” by Kit Reed: A baby starts to grow bigger and bigger after its scientist father screws up. A goofy story that’s a lot like the movie “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

“The Hundredth Dove” by Jane Yolen: A story about a fowl keeper, a king and his enchanted bride. To me, this seems more like an old-fashioned fairy tale than a fantasy story, but to each their own, I suppose…

“Jeffty Is Five” by Harlan Ellison: What happens to a child that stops aging (both physically and mentally) at the age of five? A very serious (and somewhat sad) take on this very strange concept from the point of view of a childhood friend who grows up.

“Salvador” by Lucius Shepard: American soldiers fighting in El Salvador are given drugs that make them stronger, faster, meaner – at the cost of their sanity. A very bloody, disturbing but well written story that was doubtlessly inspired by the horrors of the Vietnam War.

“The Aliens Who Knew, I mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger: A not-too-bright U.S. President describes the planet’s first contact with friendly but insufferably pedantic aliens. A hilarious take on the usually scary “first contact” trope.

“Rat” by J. P. Kelly: In a dark cyberpunk world of the future, a super-intelligent rat is dealing drugs and staying one step ahead of the authorities. Definitely an unusual premise and very well written with more action than most other stories in this anthology.

“The Friendship Light” by Gene Wolfe: A handyman uses his skills to destroy the lives of his sister and her husband. A fairly complex horror story that features low-tech mischief instead of high-tech space-age devices usually found in science fiction.

“The Bone Woman” by Charles de Lint: What if creatures from Native American myths were real and still roamed the earth? The protagonist follows a strange homeless woman who collects bones for some mysterious purpose. A very interesting story that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”

“The Lincoln Train” by Maureen F. McHugh: In this alternate universe, Lincoln barely survives the assassination attempt and his administration strikes back by forcibly relocating former slaveholders. The protagonist is a young woman that’s about to be relocated with her elderly mother. A great story that would make an amazing novel.

“Maneki Neko” by Bruce Sterling: In a futuristic Japan where a self-aware computer network operates a complex system based on gifts and favors from millions of people, an American FBI agent gets in a world of trouble when she tries to play by the book. A quirky and satirical story with an unusual premise.

“Winemaster” by Robert Reed: When people learn to transmute their minds into nanobots and code, the physical world loses its greatest minds, as well as most of its population. A prototypical “hard” sci-fi story that features everything from the nature of consciousness to corrupt genocidal governments to visitors from other worlds.

“Suicide Coast” by M. John Harrison: In a world with highly addictive virtual reality games, the protagonist is stuck in a love triangle with his daredevil friend and the friend’s wife. Or is he? A definitely unusual story that’s very meta, if you like big plot twists.

“Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman: A story of a fashion designer who lives in the last village in the world to go online. A human interest story about life in the middle of nowhere and the stereotypical plucky provincial characters who are about to have their lives changed forever.

“The People of Sand & Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi: When the world becomes a toxic dump, what should genetically modified creatures (who can eat trash and plastic, among other things) do when they find a bona fide biological dog on the loose? An immensely interesting (if slightly disturbing) story set in a dysfunctional world. (Just like all of Bacigalupi’s fiction, really.)

“Echo” by Liz Hand: After an unknown disaster destroys the world as we know it, a woman waits for her lover on an uninhabited island, with only her dog as her company. A sad tale that provides the human angle that’s so often missing from “end of the world” stories.

“The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” by Stephen King: A man killed in a plane crash finds a way to call his wife. Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction, you’re guaranteed to like this story.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: The son of a Chinese mail-order bride turns his back on his heritage and his mother’s magic origami toys. If you like human interest stories with just a touch of science fiction, you’ll love this one.

Score: 4 stars

Buy it now on Amazon

“double cheeseburger” – 1,250,000 search results on Google
“triple cheeseburger” – 63,200 search results
“quadruple cheeseburger” – 7,290 search results
“quintuple cheeseburger” – 1,580 search results
“sextuple cheeseburger” – 58 search results
“septuple cheeseburger” – 22 search results
“octuple cheeseburger” – 30 search results
“nonuple cheeseburger” – 9 search results (heh)
“decuple cheeseburger” – zero search results

(Are you thinking what I’m thinking? We have the technology!)

Have you ever wondered how to become a supervillain? Jim Bernheimer might be a few steps ahead of you: his new novel, “Origins of a D-List Supervillain,” is a unique and hilarious tale of a budding supervillain.

The main character, Cal Stringel, is a talented engineer who gets blacklisted from the high-tech industry when he tries to switch jobs. His boss, who moonlights as Ultraweapon (think Tony Stark, only more arrogant) in his state-of-the-art powersuit, makes sure Cal’s future is ruined. What’s a guy to do? Become a supervillain, of course!

And so begins one of the most entertaining supervillain stories I’ve ever read. The protagonist, who was based on Randall from Clerks, is in it for all the usual reasons: make some money, get some revenge, make a name for himself. He take the reader along on his journey from a small-timer newbie criminal (robbing jewelry stores in his homemade armor), to a supplier for more successful villains, to finally becoming a bona fide villain himself, all the while plotting vengeance against his former boss.

Along the way, he gets in every sort of trouble you can imagine (and some that you can’t), ends up in quite a few brawls with superheroes (which Bernheimer describes in great, amazing detail), makes some villain friends, meets the girl of his dreams and, of course, engages in random acts of villainy.

This book is the prequel to the bestselling “Confessions of a D-List Supervillain,” which starts exactly where “Origins” ends. The two books blend together perfectly – if you’ve never read either of them, I highly recommend starting with “Origins” and moving on to “Confessions,” which has even more superpowered shenanigans and misadventures of everyone’s favorite underdog supervillain.

The book’s diverse cast features many unusual characters with peculiar superpowers (snot that turns into cement, the ability to make monsters out of plants, etc), which is something a lot of books about superheroes/villains seem to lack. As the plot unfolds, we learn more about these secondary characters, the world they live in and even the romantic lives of several superpowered characters.

If you enjoy superhero movies, if you find yourself occasionally rooting for villains, if you think Joker might be a more interesting character than Batman, or if you just want a fun and entertaining book to read during your flight, you’ll probably love the “Origins of a D-List Supervillain” as well as its sequel.

Score: five stars

Amazon link

My new author photo

Behold!

hoarse

The 27th century is a sausagefest.

Every proper mad scientist needs a cow in his lab.

Bad guys suck at shooting.

Good guys never miss.

The dystopian future will have badass leather jackets.

If at first you don’t succeed, drop some acid and repeat.

Bulletproof vests are for chickens – skintight white shirts and cool-looking coats are obviously more functional. (Except when they’re not.)

If you shoot somebody with a tranquilizer gun, they’ll pass out that very instant.

Ditto for bullets.

And blows to the head.

Your whole world’s timeline got reset and the mentally unstable people with superpowers whom you’ve apprehended in the past are still free? Meh.

When needed, bad guys can knock out good guys and switch clothes with them in less than a minute.

Mentally unstable old people with bad memory may not be the best secret-keepers, especially if the secret is key to saving the world.

No matter what happens, there will always be just enough time for a heartfelt 3-minute discussion about feelings.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. (And bald people in black suits.)

Nobody will ever recognize you if you put on a hoodie.

Facial recognition on omnipresent cameras: 60% of the time, it works every time.

You can’t have a resistance movement without a rugged-looking Irishman.

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“a minute of silence” – 527,000 results
“a second of silence” – 366,000 results
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“an eon of silence” – 39 results
“an epoch of silence” – 31 results
“a score of silence” – 23 results
“a Planck time unit of silence” – zero results

For all you stalkers, biographers, NSA operatives and/or assorted bored web denizens. In no particular order:

“Blackout” by Breathe Carolina
“Angel Main Theme – the Sanctuary Extended Remix” by Darling Violetta
“Lights” by Ellie Goulding
“Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters
“Happy Together” by The Fortunes
“Love Me Again” by John Newman
“I Feel Fantastic” by Jonathan Coulton
“Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5
“Liberi Fatali” by Nobuo Uematsu
“Can’t Stop” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Drops of Jupiter” by Train
“Storm” by Vanessa Mae
“Nymphetamine Fix” by Cradle of Filth
“Carol of the Bells (Acapella Mix)” by BarlowGirl

“Reach for infinity” is yet another interesting anthology of hard (or at the very least mildly squishy) science fiction. Edited by Jonathan Strahan, it features mostly optimistic stories of humanity in space. The sub-genres vary from hard science fiction with sleek metal androids to tales for young adults. All of them are beautifully written, guaranteed to appeal to just about any audience and provide a refreshing humanist perspective on the frequently dark and gloomy tropes of science fiction.

Brief (and spoiler-free!) story synopses:
“Break My Fall” by Greg Egan – running a space shuttle from Earth to Mars isn’t the safest job. A tale of a space-faring captain.

“The Dust Queen” by Aliette de Bodard – if you could numb your brain and block certain memories forever, would you? And how much would you be willing to sacrifice to recover those memories later on?

“The Fifth Dragon” by Ian Mcdonald – a tale of two women working on the moon. Love, friendship, money and grandiose plans combine in this bittersweet story.

“Kheldyu” by Karl Schroeder – yet another short story featuring Gennady Malianov, a Ukrainian contractor who specializes in cleaning up other people’s messes (even if involves shooting radioactive camels in the Gobi desert). In this story, a seemingly innocuous launch of a giant CO2-filtering tower in Siberia is only a prelude to something much bigger…

“Report Concerning the Presence of Seahorses on Mars” by Pat Cadigan – a highly detailed and fleshed-out human interest story about human settlements on Mars and how they’d develop after decades spent away from Earth. A very light read that ends up covering a subject one doesn’t see a lot in science fiction.

“Hiraeth: A Tragedy in Four Acts” by Karen Lord – no matter how hard you try, once you leave Earth, sooner or later you’ll get hiraeth (space psychosis). The only viable option is to make yourself less human and more cyborg… A rather sad story about a prototype cyborg and his journey.

“Amicae Aeternum” by Ellen Klages – when you’re about to embark on a centuries-long journey to another planet, how do you say goodbye to Earth or to your best friend? A touching young adult story.

“Trademark Bugs: A Legal History” by Adam Robers – probably the most unusual story in the entire anthology. If you don’t mind the somewhat dry style, you’ll enjoy this tale of pharmaceutical companies who make their money by infecting (and curing! eventually…) people on regular basis. The story itself is a summary of legal cases for and against this development. Dark, clever and entirely plausible in this strange new world of ours.

“Attitude” by Linda Nagata – a young adult-ish story about an immensely popular brand new sport that’s played in zero gravity on a giant orbital platform. The profits are used to expand the platform, but what happens when the organizers of the game that prides itself on ethics and integrity have to choose between profits and fairness? This story would have made a great novella – it feels like the author had to chop off a few parts due to its length.

“Invisible Planets” by Hannu Rajaniemi – inspired by Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities,” this story is about a spaceship talking to a part of its programming about all the strange and different planets they’ve visited.

“Wilder Still, the Stars” by Kathleen Ann Goonan – a tale of replicant-like artifically altered humans who have incredible talents but no rights, no egos, no self-awareness. A 130-year-old woman who dreams of stars makes it her goal to help her new friends.

“The Entire Immense Superstructure: An Installation” by Ken MacLeod – in a futuristic world where one can’t get by without cybernetic lenses, where the rich live in orbital hotels and the poor survive in self-regulating nanotechnological WikiThing compounds, an artist who suffered a nervous meltdown after an expedition to Antarctica decides to go off the grid and make a statement.

“In Babelsberg” by Alastair Reynolds – a beautifully written and increasingly creepy story about a space-faring android tasked with exploring the Solar System.

“Hotshot” by Peter Watts – in a world where the existence of free will has been disproven and Earth is becoming uninhabitable, thousands of kids are conditioned to take part in a (very) long-term space diaspora project.

Score: 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: May 27)

Garry Abbott’s “Dimension Scales and Other Stories” is a quirky collection of short sci-fi stories. Perhaps I’m too used to “hard” science fiction with aliens, robots and lasers, or maybe science fiction in the UK is really that much different from its American counterpart, but I found most stories to be an unusual diversion from usual tropes. A lot of them feature regular people in regular situations with some science fiction thrown in for flavor. The only two issues I have with the anthology are the author’s occasional political biases (all rich people are bad; large news organizations are evil) and the fact that some stories don’t work well on their own. Most stories in the collection are tied together and work best if you read them all. (For example, the time traveler’s story is split into two.) That could be a bit confusing if you like to take time with your stories and read them one at a time. Overall, however, this is a creative compilation that deserves a solid 4-star rating.

Brief reviews of the stories:
“The Diary of Derek Froggat, The Accidental Time-Traveller” – a pretty good take on what would happen if a typical person from the 21st century ended up in 1670
“Black Swarm” – in Soviet Russia (and/or England), the ants exterminate you!
“Love in the Shell” – what would it be like to fall in love with a sketchy artificial intelligence?
“Cry Again Army” – what do you give to somebody who already has everything? The future, of course! A story about the mega-rich and their plan to time-travel through cryogenics
“The Drawing Room” – a very short story about a medical check-up gone horribly wrong.
“The Dimension Scales” – a misunderstood mad genius tries to get some attention.
“Alex, Boudicca and Benny the Bear” – probably my favorite story. The scene in the Museum of War, where a hologram of Alexander the Great chats with a cybernetic teddy bear, was pure gold.
“Animals Attack: Parts I to IV” – when all the animals turn on all the humans, a few survivors barricade a stadium and create their own society.
“The Next Level” – more of a thriller than a sci-fi story, about the nature of power and the morality of politicians.
“Newsbot Serial One” – what happens if you overthrow the news media and try to make the news perfectly objective by outsourcing it to robots?
“The Beep Next Door” – have you ever been bothered by incessant beeping coming from your neighbor’s apartment? You may not want to investigate it after reading this story.
“Scalp” – a highly unorthodox approach to growing pineapples in England. (For science!)
“The Day the Stars Moved” – I’m not sure this qualifies as science fiction per se… A story about an ordinary girl with an ordinary life who glimpses something extraordinary.
“The Voice of Strad” – the accidental time traveler time-travels again and pays Antonio Stradivari a visit.

Score: 4 stars

Buy it on Amazon

The contents of ARV-3 by Cameo Renae are as dull and unimaginative as its title. It’s a strange mix of the Young Adult and science fiction genres – a clone of Twilight novels that borrowed much of its plot from Fallout video games and whose protagonist is a cheap knock-off of Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games.

The plot is fairly simple: a giant solar flare destroys the planet’s electric grid and causes every nuclear power plant to overheat and blow up. The government doesn’t have enough time to produce a stable anti-radiation vaccine and gives several million people the untested version, which turns them into bloodthirsty cannibals (a la “28 Days Later”) obsessed with revenge. They roam the dead planet’s surface, waiting for their chance to kill the few survivors that hid in underground vaults – or hives, as the author calls them.

The plot, with all its radiation and monsters and underground vaults, appears to have been “borrowed” from old Fallout games, though there’s still the outside chance the author might have come up with it herself. The protagonist is Abigail “Abi” Parks, a 17-year-old girl whose obsession with a 19-year-old boy from her hive is surpassed only by her phenomenal sharpshooting skills. The book follows the misadventures of her hive’s 15 members as they get back to the surface after 13 years and try to get to another, bigger hive.

I had to force myself to finish this book and despite all my efforts, I didn’t find a single creative thought or a witty line of dialogue – not even a memorable quote. The Young Adult angle is hard to believe. (Abi and her boyfriend are in their late teens and never even thought of kissing.) The science aspect (the novel claims to be science fiction, after all) is laughable: the deadly radiation that killed everything on the planet apparently goes away after just 13 years. (Great news, y’all! Chernobyl should be safe to live in again!)

The book is plagued with an overabundance of typos, spelling errors, terrible punctuation, etc. The characters are dull, one-dimensional and even speak the same way.

The plot itself is riddled with holes and features some mighty inconsistent writing: even though all the plants and animals in the world died, three buff cowboys appear out of nowhere at some point in the middle of the book. (They must have been living off photosynthesis!) At one point, an army captain starts taking orders from a sergeant. Later on, we find out that the government has been training survivors and fighting irradiated mutants for 13 years, even though they discovered the mutants’ existence only 3 weeks ago. (Let’s do the time warp again!) At one point, 15 survivors pack up a month’s worth of food and water (about 450 gallons of water 1,350 meals?) and manage to fit it on a cart that they lug behind them. The protagonist’s father is a former NASA scientist and an expert on living off the grid, but he somehow forgets that there’s a large city only miles away from his bunker. (“Gee, where did that come from? Guess we’ll have to go through it now.” – I’m paraphrasing, but the gist is the same.)

Oddly enough, ARV-3 has 75 reviews on Amazon, and almost all of them give the book 4 or 5 stars. I suppose that just goes to show you that if you have enough fans, you can get away with writing just about anything.

Score: 1 star

Buy it on Amazon (if you dare)

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