Robert Sharp’s 01001001 01000011 01000101 a ‘bit’ deep, a bunch cool

Cover: Two children on a cliff overlooking damaged cityscape

Image credit: Daria Schreiber, you can follow her on twitter @Yefimia 

Way back in March of 2015 I reviewed a book called The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp (feel free to read my review of The Good Shabtiand spoiler alert, I loved it!

I love Ancient Egypt and am always hungry for any stories that take place there. And while reading the story, I was impressed by how much detail the author incorporated and how ‘real’ everything seemed while also telling a meaningful story.  A great first impression no doubt.

Needless to say I was ecstatic when Sharp actually contacted me (all these years later) about his new story called ‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ published over at Pornokitsch.

Just looking at the title, I was pretty confident we wouldn’t be cruising the placid waters of the Nile, but I did not expect that we would be sledging through the permanent snow drift of a post societal collapse where children are sent to scavenge for fuel and have no compunction (or at least very little) at burning books to stay warm.

Spoiler alert, I loved this too.

‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ is a tale of survival, but also a question about the value of information to those who can’t use it. What is the purpose of saving and archiving the past if future generations aren’t able to access that knowledge? What is the value saving something for the future, when an immediate benefit can be gained now? Is all of the knowledge in the world more valuable than a human life? All very serious questions.

The word HAPPY and then binary under

How I felt reading this novella. 🙂

I think perhaps my favorite aspect of the story though, is the seemingly random bits of binary code that interrupt the text. I’m a big nerd and just happen to have a binary to text converter in my favorites bar, so an added bit of fun for me was translating the code along the way and attempting to reflect on what it said as I continued reading.

I’m waffling on whether or not I recommend this approach as it was a bit hard to remember what the last part said while reading the newest sequence and also keeping track of the story. I may just advise collecting all of them along the way and translating them all at once at the end. Even so, I very much enjoyed how these interruptions sort of jolt you through the story. You’re kind of reading one part and then you skip ahead a bit. It feels a little like listening to a scratched CD (anybody remember those days?), but in a good way. Neat effect.

Finally, you should all be proud of how many different ways I used the word ‘bit’ just then and didn’t make a joke about it in reference to that word being a portmanteau of binary digit . . . Just be proud ok!

TLDR:

I highly recommend this piece. Sharp continues to bring a tremendous attention to detail and craftsmanship to his work. Where in the past it was focusing on the little details of an ancient civilization which immerse the reader into the story, now it is the small details of the actual form of the piece which again immerse you into a pretty philosophical story. Go read it!

Oh and here’s just a bit (this one I didn’t even mean to do) of fun since we’re talking about binary so much and I just love Flight of the Conchords. Binary solo! 


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Dreamer: A Different Flavor for Brandon Sanderson

Dreamer
This was an interesting (little) piece from Brandon Sanderson. I don’t really think of Sanderson’s books as being overtly moral. We watch his protagonists struggle with situations that are truly pretty grim, but through it all we kind of have a feeling of which way north is. Even if it gets a little bit fuzzy sometimes.

And for all that we know which way is north, it never feels forced or belligerent. It’s not shouting in the front row but somewhere in the back. Hidden but we know it is there and it is reassuring.

Dreamer seems to be missing this quality.

We are so wrapped up in the action of this piece that even though we realize the consequences of the game we’re playing (there are a few lines that make it pretty explicit), we have to work at being horrified by them. We want Dreamer to catch Phi. We want Dreamer to win, even though the cost for doing so is quite high for everyone except Dreamer and Phi.

All in all it’s a bit disorienting. But good disorienting? What I can pin down is that I’m very impressed that I’m able to think/write this much about such a short story. After all, it was only 12 pages. I think that means it was good. 🙂

Review of Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

snapshotEnjoyable. I will probably look into Reckoners series now (like I wasn’t going to already). I think maybe he tried to do a little too much at the end but the story was still very good.

Snapshot is basically a detective story. I occasionally read detective stories (Ok that’s a lie. Apparently I’ve read a lot) and enjoy them though my bag is much more in the SF and Fantasy realm. Indeed I’ve read a few SFF stories that are basically just detective novels (with all the bad writing and misogyny) set in a science fiction or fantastic world. These types of stories are often disappointing as we’re not progressing in either genre. Snapshot does not feel this way to me. If anything it is a detective story with one fantastical (SF?) element: the Snapshot.

As such the expectations being met, broken, or subverted are unique to detective stories. His effort here is not simply: “Look! I mashed two genres together!”. But it seems he really wanted to add something to the detective genre and I feel he’s done that to an extent.

Perhaps what was showcased the most for me was Sanderson’s ability to write characters. They always seem incredibly real and I enjoy the little quirks he gives them to make them feel that way. Snapshot is no exception. You get to witness an incredible series of events that happen to very likable (well at the very least very sympathetic) people. I wouldn’t ask for more.

Please feel free to comment your thoughts, impressions, praise, or random blatherings. I’m always up for talking Brandon Sanderson.

Jurassic Chronicles a bit of a bust.

jurassic-chronicles-ebookI was very excited to read this book. I was familiar with Victor Milan’s Dinosaur Lords and honestly just love dinos. Unfortunately, this book did not really deliver as advertised (or at least not how I imagined it should have / what I thought I would be reading).

There are dinosaurs in the book but that is kind of the only engagement with the theme of the anthology. I think the story that most exemplified what I felt the anthology should have been composed of was Harry Manners’ “Szcar’s Trial”. It’s POV of an actual dinosaur that comes into contact with some alien technology. While the tech is important to the plot, it is really Szcar’s battle for acceptance within the pack that composes “the story”. Very well done.

The other stories seem to just be little asides from the different authors’ other projects that they just threw dinos in to bring awareness of their other works. Didn’t feel like there were many stories written specifically for the theme of the anthology even though it is obvious that all the stories were basically commissioned

Even Milan’s story “A Spear for Allosaur” can kinda be thought of in this way, but I enjoyed it much more as I was already familiar with the Dino Lords “universe”. For anyone who is familiar with that series, we get to see a young Karyl and the story really shows how much the character has changed and developed into the Karyl we know now.

In all, I’ll be looking out for stuff from Harry Manners and will continue being a fan of Victor Milan, but otherwise, was not super impressed by this anthology. This is my first ‘Future Chronicles’ anthology so hopefully the others will prove better 🙂

Review – Children of the Gods: The Talon Project by Darryl Olsen

childrenEver seen the show Ancient Aliens? This book is kind of like that. If you love that show and would enjoy reading a Science Fiction-esque thriller of similar quality, then I’ll give you the buy button straight away. It’s here. You needn’t read the rest of this review.

Still with me?

Good. I’d like to continue with the comparison I’ve just made for a bit longer and point out that I’ve never seen an episode of Ancient Aliens in its entirety. I’ve never been able to make it through.

A quick browse of the Amazon page will show you many reviews with 4 and 5 stars. Critics there will say they cannot wait for the sequel. That the adventure has just begun and they are waiting with baited breath to see what unfolds. In this respect, these critics are absolutely correct. At 68 pages, the author does not accomplish much more than set up the promise for what must be a longer story. After finishing the work, I too looked online for the sequel. Not because I was experiencing the ride of my life and wanted to continue, but because I had felt that the events of the story had promised me something and then failed to deliver. My mind tried to rationalize the feeling with: “Oh there must be a sequel. Everything will be better in the sequel.”

One of the initial reasons I had looked forward to reading the story was because of the shorter page length. I’ve often said that stories in SF & (especially) Fantasy often span for too long. Single volumes commonly span for 1,000 pages. With the amount of time I have for reading, this type of volume could take me months to complete. Children of the Gods: The Talon Project wasn’t long enough, but I don’t feel that it needs more pages (I see now that this is a very complicated opinion).  My best explanation of this opinion is that I believe much more could have been done in the amount of writing. Tighten up.

CotG sets reporter Michael Cohen on the trail of a big scoop. He begins pursuing the lead and what he uncovers is a conspiracy to hide certain knowledge from the American public & the world at large. I use ‘uncovers’ generously because he really doesn’t ‘uncover’ anything. He is told where to go and what to believe. The reader follows Cohen, digests the same ‘evidence’ and is expected to buy in to a premise which the main character himself doesn’t really believe. Now, we’re in a fictional story, pretty much anything can be true, so long as it is true within the context of the story. If you’d like to posit that every culture on the planet is descendant from an alien race, show us that it is. Arguably, there is some dialogue which says: “Hey! You know this passage from the bible? It’s in there because . . . Aliens!”

COTGbanner

Our protagonist feels the evidence is dubious because he is Jewish, and while not really religious, must overcome a life time of belief to accept this news. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story, but the passage is only half given and I didn’t recognize what was. I’m no biblical scholar but I’m guessing there aren’t many in the demographic who will read this story. Give us the whole passage.

Some of the other reviewers, bring up a comparison to Robert Langdon, and The Da Vinci Code. I think this demonstrates what I’m trying to say perfectly. If I remember correctly, Dan Brown’s ‘thesis’ in The Da Vinci Code was that the Holy Grail Myth was actually a complex set of symbols designed to conceal the fact that Jesus Christ had a child, and to conceal who that child (bloodline) actually was. This was very dangerous information because its revelation would upset the validity of the Catholic church. The power dynamic of our entire society would have been thrown in to chaos.

Awesome. Love it.

I see CotG as having a similar premise. A code, which once revealed, will open up an entire galaxy. The danger here being that once it is open for us to leave, it might be open for others to enter. We don’t know what to expect. Again, awesome. Love this premise too. Problem is, Dan Brown’s story was so tightly crafted, with so much attention to detail, that actual churches were banning it. While, I can’t expect this level of craft every thriller I read, this is the end we should be shooting for. Also, you’ll  note that The Da Vinci Code is a much longer story. However, I think TotG could have benefited from a similar attention to detail even at the shorter page length.

So, I hope I’ve been able to give an honest and serious discussion about Children of the Gods: The Talon Project. If anybody has read this story, and the review and has thoughts they would like to share, please comment below. I’d love to here them. Bye for now!

Anthology Review: Appalachian Undead

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Mountain Dead, a small anthology of [4] zombie stories put out by Apex Publications. It was a delight to read (you can read my praise of it here) and I was, of course, craving more when I finally finished devouring its 66 pages. I was in luck. Mountain Dead just so happened to be a companion work to a larger anthology entitled Appalachian Undead. You might consider Mountain Dead the appetizer and Appalachian Undead the main course. And I most certainly ate it up. Licked my plate clean in fact and am ready for dessert. It seems only fitting that I write some words as to why I found this title so . . . delicious . . .

First off, it’s a large helping of zombie goodness. 20 stories over 214 pages with a preface, introduction, and afterword that give the collection a framework/context/meaning. It also includes some snippet bios of each author/editor and their relevant contributions to the field. This was especially nice because it allows the reader to continue exploring different works and authors after they are finished with a particular story. Well played team, well played. I’m going to ‘review’ the three stories which stood out the most in my mind, and hopefully I’ll be able to communicate why. Here we go!

Cover!!

Cover!!

Hide and Seek – Tim Waggoner

For me, this story  felt so memorable because of its departure from convention. The first departure is the point of view; we get the events from the zombie’s perspective. I’ve seen this before in Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, but Waggoner’s take still felt fresh and new. I remember struggling at points within Marion’s work because of the polarity of his tone. He seemed to swing widely between humor, cynicism, despair and hope (I think in the end, Warm Bodies is a pretty hopeful novel). Waggoner didn’t need all of that to represent the humanity of his zombies. He focused (as many zombie fictions do) on survival but on the survival of dead instead of the living. Very interesting.

There is also a scene where our leading boy (yes the zombie is a child!) contemplates suicide. I don’t believe that I’ve seen this anywhere else, but it seems so obvious now that I think about it. Why would a zombie want to continue on in what I can only imagine would be a pretty miserable existence? I feel most stories don’t consider this because the idea is that the undead are trapped in a cursed immortality, that having died once they can’t ‘die’ again. But Waggoner gets us asking whether or not a second life (or an undeath) would even be worth ‘living’. Woah!

Spoiled – Paul Moore

This one made my list because of how truly horrifying I found the ending to be. Poor girl has a miscarriage and the dead infant tries to eat its way out of the womb during birth. Like I said, horrifying. And in true zombie-short fashion, nobody wins at the end of this tale. Really reminds the reader that no matter how much we sit here and imagine what a zombie apocalypse might be like, how we might survive and rebuild etc. Truth is we really don’t want to be around if the dead ever start rising from grave.

Note* I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m using the term ‘horrifying’ to describe the technical aspects of the story. It’s very well written. Great pacing and even some development of character (which can be hard to do in a zombie novel let alone a short). And the imagery is . . . True. It was just the ideas which I found so terrifying. Which a good zombie story should do. Well done here. Well done.

Calling Death – Jonathan Maberry

To me, this story felt the most like Appalachia. Or at least the way that I’ve conceived ‘Appalachia’ in my mind. Really drove home the idea of the people’s attachment to the land, and the simplicity of their lives. Simple, not because they weren’t capable of more complexity but because it didn’t bring them closer to any worth or value. We can see the havoc that is rough through materialistic conceptions of worth and value in the tale of the greedy mine owners and the poor hard working miners. Even in death, they are made to struggle. I’ve always heard the expression: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Apparently in Appalachia, you can’t sleep then either.

Honorable Mentions –

Black Friday (Karin Fuller): This one was sort of silly but a really fun read. Read it about two days before going black Friday shopping myself so the timing was impeccable.

Watch out!

Watch out!

We Take Care of Our Own (John Everson): Liked the way this one felt almost like a detective mystery. I’m always down for a good detective story, especially if it has zombies in it!

Company’s Coming (Ronald Kelly): There was a really neat racial component to this story that I was not expecting, nor do I see very often in zombie fiction. Well done there.

Repent, Jessie Shimmer! (Lucy A. Snyder): Who is Jessie Shimmer?! She seems like a really neat character who lives in a somewhat crazy world. I am definitely going to read some of her other stories (novels maybe?).

This is the END!

Of the post I mean. I’ll conclude how I usually conclude, by telling you all to go read this anthology. It’s on Amazon here, so you have no excuse! If I didn’t mention your story in my post, I’m sorry. Know that I thoroughly enjoyed all of the shorts in this anthology, but I just needed a way to write about it without writing 214 pages myself.  Anyway, bye all!

Short Fiction Review: ‘Ramesses on the Frontier’ & ‘Bit-U-Men’

October 25th  saw the publishing of what I believe to be something of a unique work in our modern times. Namely, an anthology of Mummy Stories!! New Mummy Stories!! And some old ones too if you’re in to that sort of thing. Yup, Jurassic London (who I didn’t even know about until this) published Book of the Dead and a companion anthology called Unearthedwhich ‘resurrects’ some old mummy stories written by authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Louisa May Alcott!

Needless to say, I was very excited to get my paws on some of the stories inside these two epic tomes. My mind was racing with possibilities. Some of what I came up with can be found over at the Amazing Stories Blog, but of course I couldn’t keep everything under a reasonable post length so a lot got omitted. A lot! But, I’m not here to dazzle you all with my brilliant imagination, I’m here to write about books (and really anything else that pops into my brain, but books lately).

I’m also incredibly frugal. I think it comes with the territory. The more I write about books, the more I realize how time consuming it is to write about books. So, as not to waste both time and money on this somewhat risky, albeit exciting adventure, I decided to first search out and find some samples of the work for which I was contemplating a purchase. Also, I was able to link to two different stories from the website. What I found was . . . Well just keep reading.

Cover!!

Cover!!

Ramesses on the Frontier by Paul Cornell

This was the first story I read. It was posted on Tor’s website and advertised in their newsletter (indeed the news letter is how I found out about all of this). I didn’t have time to read the story immediately but had to postpone reading until a later date. As I had mentioned earlier, my mind was filling up with expectation. Mummies resurrecting,  collecting organs, turning into giant sand storms! I was absolutely giddy.

Unfortunately, upon sitting down to finally read Ramesses on the Frontier I found that my dreams of giant sand storms and ruthless pharaohs had been smashed to pieces like Canopic jars unable to stand the test of time (thankfully I still have all of my organs). What I received instead, was a POV ride along of some mummy trekking across America in an attempt to reach the afterlife. And not once did he turn into a giant sand storm.

All joking aside, I understand that Ancient Egypt has a rich history and there are likely endless possibilities to the stories you can tell. I suppose part of my negativity is that I didn’t get the one I was imagining (aka sand storms). I think the other part is that I really couldn’t understand what was going on within the story. Let me explain. In Ramesses on the Frontier we are (as mentioned earlier) POV Ramesses, waking up after something like 3,000 years of being a box of bandages. Somewhat humorously, he believes the world to exist as he knew it in ancient times. As he discovers modernity, he looks to ancient devices to describe new marvels of which he is not familiar. For instance, he describes what I assume are cell phones, as ‘spell jars’. He is pleased upon gazing into his ‘spell jar’ that all of the spells he cast before dying are still active. I assume he’s using apps? And that somehow these apps are to his liking? (I hope I’m not just missing the boat entirely and this is obviously something else) I guess what I’m feeling is a disconnect between what the author is trying to portray and what is actually written on the page. Like somehow Ancient Egypt is foreign to me (because it actually is) though through point-of-view it’s supposed to be my home, and the modern world is still foreign to me, as well as poor Ramesses. Obviously I need to just go watch Brendan Fraser scream at some mummies.

Bit-U-Men by Maria Davhana Headly

No sand storms in this one either, but I feel like I can write much more positively about this story than the other. Mostly because I enjoyed it more.

Other Cover!!

Other Cover!!

In order to understand what’s going on in this story, you have to understand something very important about history. Well, maybe it isn’t ‘very important’ to general history but . . . what you need to know is that back in the early 1900’s, people were chopping up mummies and making them in to all kinds of things. Ink, medicine, aphrodisiacs, the list goes on. In this story, they’re cutting up mummies (well only one) and making candy. Crazy right?! But also really cool.

There weren’t any narrative hiccups in this story to get bogged down in, which was a blessing after reading the last story. Everything seemed clearly written, and the parts that were supposed to be mysterious were well articulated and not in the least bit confusing. Just mysterious. This story also seems to cover a great deal of time in a relatively short amount of words. Lots of themes crammed in there too but they don’t seem to crowd. Just a pleasant story. Typically, this is where I’d delve into the details of the plot or characterization but I think it’s better if you read the story for yourself. It can be found here at Light Speed Magazine.

Conclusion

In all, I’m still super excited to finally purchase Book of the Dead, and likely it’s companion Unearthed. Despite the anthology’s seemingly rocky start, I feel that there are enough other stories contained within that I will be able to find at least a few that I enjoy. Maybe I’ll get some giant sandstorms afterall!

Laters!