Mindguard: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have Mindguard, by Andrei Cherascu.

I had fun reading this story, which was a very interesting and page-turning adventure with some compelling characters and fascinating sci-fi tech. Tamisa, highly-trained living-weapon soldier of the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin’s Enforcement Unit, was sufficiently reminiscent of a Legionary of Moros to tickle my nostalgia bone and enjoy reading about her struggles.

The story centres around a team of private security specialists – Bodyguards and Mindguards, for the physical and telepathic safety of the client – and their efforts to get a person carrying sensitive information through a gauntlet of hostile environments and a space-fascist-y government under the heel of a military wing long since gone rotten. Every side in the story has its own secrets and every motivation has its own complexities, and I was left wondering who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Ultimately, I suppose the lesson was that things are never that simple. And I like that.

Our characters’ journey takes us through one of the most dangerous “deserts” in the human interstellar empire – I really enjoyed the concept of lawless or otherwise contested regions of space being deserts, by the way. Telepathy and teleportation / portal use are relatively commonplace. Also there’s a planet (or part of a planet) of space lepers, which is great. No notes.

A few things didn’t make sense to me as I was reading. The uploaded-consciousness thing was cool and all, but if it was a new discovery how was it much of a carrot for Sheldon? He could have (and probably should have) just refused to take the mission, and waited for the technology to become common. He’d waited this long, what’s a little longer? Go public with the knowledge and wait for his turn. Still, I suppose it was tightly controlled and exclusive and – well, we needed the plot to happen. I also wasn’t sure what was going on with Tamisa’s phobia of her own beauty. Was it a veiled method of talking about how attractive she was, or was it a clever way of showing her mental damage after growing up on rape planet? Why not both?

Getting busted for shaving her head was kind of stupid, and the lesson (learn to embrace your advantages, in this case do the va-va-voom trope and be all beautiful and stuff) was a bit on the nose. I think her arc from victim and escapee from rape planet to relationship-haver with Villo with occasional head-smashing outbursts was more than enough without adding that additional facet to it. But fine. It’s there. Incidentally, I was convinced as soon as Villo turned up that he was definitely going to betray Tamisa by the end and they would have a fight and be evenly matched and predictable and then she would win by being unpredictable. I’m still not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed by what happened. Why not both?

The action ticked along nicely and there were enough twists and turns for it to be compelling. The chapter introduction-texts either added rich background or tantalising snippets of what was coming up in the story without spoiling what was happening, and I liked that. Thomas Anderson’s showdown with the Millers around the mid-point was fun and tense, marking the point of the story at which I really started to get invested and leaving me uncertain what was about to happen, and who I wanted it to happen to. Why not b– oh.

I was a little put off by the fact that all the female characters were described in great detail while the male characters (aside from Maclaine ‘Mac’ Ross and his bigness and tight shirts) were barely described at all. A notable exception being Horatio, who – well I still don’t know what he looked like, but oh boy, his problems have got problems, don’t they? That fuckin’ guy, man. Nicely written.

The finale, tying together the action and intrigue and motivations of the main players, revealing a very satisfying mystery and even tying the leper planet back into it, is top-notch. Maybe a little over-extended, but definitely nice. I was left wanting to see what our heroes and anti-heroes did next, and that’s never a bad thing.

Sex-o-meter

Aside from gross rape planet (I joke, but the ugly events and culture on Tamisa’s former homeworld are really only alluded to in order to provide a backdrop, it’s not all that explicit) and incidents thereon, there’s a couple of sex scenes and a bit of skin-crawling nastiness from Horatio but none of it’s particularly graphic. I’ll give it a single sexual-performance-enhancing body-modification and two-thirds of a deep-seated emotional instability out of a possible … uh, Horatio.

Gore-o-meter

We get some excellent fights, killings, and police brutality. People’s heads are reduced to barely-recognisable lumps after their attackers lose track of how many times they’ve bashed them with whatever, which is something I always look for in a beat-down. Three-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Like I was saying, the reader is treated to some excellent sci-fi concepts and a lot of good world-building in this book. But I wouldn’t say there was much in the way of WTF to contend with. The Opus Caine was something of a WTF, and there were some great psychic moments, but I was rather expecting more of that sort of thing, in a story that seemed like the telepathy version of a bodyguard adventure. Even so, it was fine. I’ll give Mindguard a diving sideways in slow-motion shouting “NOOOOO” out of a possible doing all that only in your mind.

My Final Verdict

Three stars for Mindguard on the Goodreads / Amazon scale. Not much more to say, this was an enjoyable read with some great characters. Also Horatio was there.


Primordial Threat: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next one on our list for this week was Primordial Threat, by by M. A. Rothman.

Only after reading this book, I found that Rothman has some impressive connections and endorsements from well-known traditional authors, and that this book is a hundreds-of-reviews-bearing bestseller in its own right. Rothman is, but for a foolish trip-up of fate and a critical blunder of the traditional publishing machine, a traditional bestselling author slumming it with the lowly self-pubs.

But none of that really matters. He’s done everything right in this book, and he deserves the acclaim he’s gotten. Before discovering any of these things about him I had already read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his story. And so all I can do is sing its praises. I just don’t carry a tune particularly well so bear with me.

This exciting and engaging tale of global impending Armageddon (it really did have a Deep Impact on me and I’d read it 2012 times … okay sorry, but what you have to remember about those movies is, they were fucking great and this would be at least as good and Emmerich should absolutely make it after he’s finished with Moonfall) is backed up with some storybook but otherwise intriguingly solid science, or at least science-fiction, which is why we’re here after all. We are introduced to our main characters and they’re all highly distinctive and readable in their own ways.

The main protagonists of the story are a primordial black hole that’s about to destroy the solar system, a bunch of apocalyptic doomers who want it to happen (of course), and Greg. Fucking Greg, I swear to God. Look, not to spoil it but someone should have shot Greg in the face the first time he made a cunt of himself. Shot him right in the face, and replaced him with a packet of macaroni wearing a hat. Then the worst character would have been the black hole.

This book definitely feels like a product of its time. The breakdown of (admittedly stupid and ignorant) people’s trust in science, and the pandemic of the early 2020s has convinced me that this story, ultimately, would not have worked. It’s fiction, in its purest and most optimistic form (in fact, it sounds very like the book written by John Cusack’s character in 2012, which adds a layer of fun to it). Nobody would believe the scientists – or enough people wouldn’t – and the politicians would not stop being self-serving, and the operation would tank, and we would all die. And that’s good. We deserve to. Rothman had better get busy writing more books because this wasn’t enough to convince me of the general worthwhile-ness of humanity.

We are treated to some very satisfying scenes as the end-of-the-world scenario plays out. We see actual leadership and selflessness, to a degree that bordered on the political porn of Designated Survivor. None of this would actually happen but it’s so fun to pretend it would. This book is about Earth being threatened by a rogue black hole and the most unbelievable thing about it is the number of people who aren’t giant pieces of shit. That’s where we’re at right now, folks.

I did have to ask, why wasn’t the same tech being used (quite aside from the fact that it was all hidden and under wraps) to send out evacuation colonies or just exploration teams in every damn direction? Seems like, yes, we had a quite literal “all the eggs in one basket (and also the entire farm and every chicken capable of laying eggs that has ever and will ever exist)” situation going on, and only a very fixed amount of specific resources (ie. graphene), but a lot of parallel projects could have happened. That would probably have added unnecessary threads to the plot, but maybe we could have done it instead of the cop thread? I mean, the cop thread was fine but it didn’t super tie into the rest of the story. Meh. Oh well.

The series of events surrounding “Frank”, and their emergency fallback power supply, was all a little bit out-there but damn it, I liked it. It allowed a bit of high-stakes tension with the Brotherhood and still gave us the Great Big Sci-Fi we love to see. Yes, this was all really enjoyable and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. While it could be tweaked, it was really fine. I look forward to the movie.

Sex-o-meter

Some babies are born, which (I’m no scientist but) to me suggests that there might have been some people having The Sex. But seriously, there’s not really time for sex in this story. The world’s about to end, people! Fuck later. Jesus Christ. I’ll give this book a Bambi out of a possible Thumper on the ol’ sex-o-meter.

Gore-o-meter

A whole bunch of deaths, some angry mob action, a guy loses a couple of fingers and the fabric of space-time gets torn a new arsehole, but ultimately this isn’t a gory one. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five for Primordial Threat.

WTF-o-meter

There’s classic WTF of a big golden-age sci-fi quality in this book. No wonder Niven and Benford and Anderson like this, it’s the sort of stuff they write – and it’s at least as good, in my opinion. Maybe even better. Megaengineering, and huge cosmic stakes. These aren’t so much true WTFs, but it makes for a fantastical and escapist read that was really enjoyable. There’s inspiring WTFery of the “could space really do this to us?” variety (the answer is yes, yes it could, without even looking up from its metaphorical sudoku), and exciting WTFery of the “could human science really achieve this?” variety (the answer is … ehh … no, not really, but it’s fucking neat), and horrifying WTFery of the “are people really like this?” variety (I think we all know the answer to this one). I’ll give it a Ringworld and a Rama out of a possible Bowl of Heaven.

My Final Verdict

An interesting and imaginative story with a very cathartic ending for those readers (I would like to think it’s most of us, at this point) who are frustrated with evangelical doomsday cultists and their apparent desire to just fucking kill everyone. My initial instinct was to give Primordial Threat four and a half stars. I want to elevate that to five purely because of the simple and beautiful relationship between Dave and Bella. After finding out more about the story’s background and advantages, my next instinct was to deduct again, but that’s completely unfair of me. My unbiased and open-eyed take on this story was five stars, and five stars is what it gets. Excellent job and a really good read.


Planet B (Complete): An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Team Space Lasagna’s fifth-week selection included Planet B, the “complete” edition, by Micheal Beadley. Not his real name. His real name, according to the hilarious preface, is too similar to other authors’ names and might also identify him to the micro-managing psychopaths he previously worked a day job with. Other authors should take note of Beadley’s prefacing style. When you’re introducing first-time readers to your story, you don’t want to coddle the big babies into it like you’re sitting around at a goddamn pyjama party. You set the whole lot of it on fire and fling it into their faces like a declaration of war.

Edpool’s note: I just found out that this book seems to have vanished off Amazon, although it is still up on Goodreads. My apologies to anyone disappointed. By the Amazon part, I mean. Obviously.

Okay. Oh boy, where to start with this one…

In the beginning of the 22nd century, life seemed good for humanity. The problems of global warming in the early 21st century, Islamic terrorism etc only existed in the past.

Planet B, an excerpt.

Planet B is a very earnest sci-fi adventure story with genuine wit and imagination behind it. And you know there’s a ‘but’ coming, so let’s just get it out there. The story … needs some work under the hood. Or ‘bonnet’ as we UK English folks say.

Some work with an editor. Some more experience at the nuts and bolts of storytelling and writing. Some more time put into the post-production and release. I mean … look at the cover(s) we ended up with. There are sequels, and they seem even more rushed.

This seems to be the actual cover for Planet B II. Points for the self-awarded 5 star rating, though. Beadley’s got some stones.

This all said, I had fun reading it. It was challenging, but I’m damn good at what I do. I learned some interesting facts (for example, the etymology of the word tank, which was a cover to hide its actual purpose … I’m not saying it’s new or obscure information, but I didn’t know it) and had a few laughs along the way.

The delightful Britishness of it was heartwarming. It’s like this book was written by Arthur Dent, if he had never managed to befriend an alien and his house had been bulldozed just before his planet was demolished, but he’d had time to write a book in between. The existence of cricket doubles and the fact that Spaceballs references still happen in the future makes me happy. The concept of termite cities was great! The Sons of Al Qaeda, eh, not so much. But what can you do.

I laughed aloud at the fact the Uglies (aliens) showed up at Earth and destroyed Bath (in the UK!), specifically. I laughed at the mental image of the invincible Captain (or possibly Commander) Hilton punching out a big alien cat. I laughed at “three Uglies or one polar bear” as a measure of deadliness. I thrilled at the giant alien narwhal on ichthyosaur action and was glad to hear the baby narwhal was okay even though there really wasn’t any plot-supported reason for us to be so reassured. I enjoyed the way the story was told through switching perspectives to cover the action, and appreciated the way each shift was signposted – especially since a certain amount of the story was written in the first person, which could have gotten confusing.

Excessive use of commas took us into unsettling territory somewhere beyond James T. Kirk. Like I said, some editing work is needed on this book.

Bloody Hell. Alright, let’s consult the meters.

Sex-o-meter

A little bit of sex, a bit of old fashioned sleaze, some standard rapiness but nothing too explicit or gross. It wasn’t an integral part of the story and for the most part the relationships and character interactions were innocuous and nicely folded into the story. Two very tall and drunk space jocks who won’t take no for an answer out of a possible same thing but there’s no Scorpion to beat their arses. I don’t know. It was fine.

Gore-o-meter

We get plenty of action, fights and battles and brutality – but it’s not overwhelming, and is only there to serve the story. I call this a good balance and think it shows decent instincts for crafting a high-paced and high-stakes story. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

There was plenty of WTF crammed into this book, and I am happy to report that most of it came from the imaginative setting and history even if a certain amount also came from the chaotic, borderline bizarro style in which the book was written. Humanity’s madcap history of colonisation, invasion, genetic tampering and military misadventure made for a dizzying backdrop against which this tale took place. Still, I wouldn’t call it genuine surrealist WTF, so much as … look, I’m giving this three Uglies and a polar bear out of a possible Captain Hilton punching three Uglies and a polar bear while riding a giant alien narwhal. I will not be answering further questions at this time.

My Final Verdict

Planet B reads like an early draft that was rushed to production because the author was unable to bear another day working for such a bunch of disgusting evil micro-managing morons. And while I’m fortunate enough to not share such an experience, I can certainly appreciate the sentiment. Sometimes a story just has to be told. Still, I’m going to have to leave Planet B with two stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale on its technical merits.


Watson and Holmes: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Next up we have Watson and Holmes, by E. B. Dawson.

I was honestly at a loss to review this story in my usual way, because I have been thoroughly immersed in the Sherlock Holmes universe (ie. London) for so long. While movies like the one with Robert Downey Jr. and TV series like the Cumberbatch one or The Irregulars aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I did enjoy them all in their own ways, and the original books as well as the Enola Holmes stories have long been favourites of mine.

Now please don’t misunderstand, I’m getting to the point here and the point isn’t that Watson and Holmes is unoriginal. It’s anything but. However, it is stretched very cleverly over the framework of Conan Doyle’s characters, settings and mysteries, and as such most of the “review” I could give boils down (or … Doyles down? No Edpool, don’t force it) to either listing the Sherlock Holmes references (Linden is London! That Leemex character is the pygmy! Lestrade is Lestrade!) or else listing the variations (Sherlock and Watson are women! Sharlotte’s violin is purple! Watson fought in a space war against shapeshifting [SPOILERS REDACTED] monsters instead of in Afghanistan which absolutely isn’t timely right now anyway so move on!) and that doesn’t do the story justice.

Because I really enjoyed the parallels, the divergences, and the Watson and Holmes narrative purely on its own merits. The sheer mass of human and alien cultures in Linden set the mega-city up as a character in its own right just as (see, here I go again) it is in the best Sherlock Holmes tales. The focus on Watson, who I (like many I’m sure) have always considered the more relatable and sympathetic character and therefore have always rather liked more than Holmes, was well done. I loved seeing Watson re-assume her army persona and resume the war she had previously left in turmoil and trauma. The plot twists and the action, all woven around a clever series of mysteries, were very enjoyable. The Falls, and Moriarty … it’s quite inescapable but damn it, it’s well done.

If you hate Sherlock Holmes with a passion, this book isn’t for you. Why would you even be looking at it? If you love Sherlock Holmes, or are otherwise kind of meh about the whole sub-genre but you like a good science fiction yarn with strong world-building, excellent characters and a rolling, highly entertaining plot, this is well worth a look. There’s just not much more I can say.

So let’s consult the meters, shall we?

Sex-o-meter

There’s a little bit of match-making, and you can always depend on Watson to have a relationship befuddlement or two, but Watson and Holmes generally doesn’t have time for that sort of bullplop. There are mysteries to solve, dastardly plots to unravel and, in short, the game being afoot to worry about. A Mrs. Hudson out of a possible Irene Adler (the saucy adaptations version of Irene Adler) for Watson and Holmes.

Gore-o-meter

Some solid battlefield, jungle and street mayhem in this story, a few grisly murders and such, as one would expect. But overall it’s not such a gory outing. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Again, it’s hard for the WTF-o-meter to quantify the raw WTFs per million in this book because of the interference we’re getting from the high levels of Doylian radiation coming off the source material. *whangs the WTF-o-meter a couple of times with a violin bow* Yeah … nah, it’s just giving a consistent reading of “Basil Rathbone out of a possible Rathil Basbone” and that’s – to be honest that’s just not a thing.

My Final Verdict

Watson and Holmes was a very enjoyable read. What else can one say? I had a lot of fun recognising the references and geeking out over the sci-fi construct they were slathered over. Cool setting and backstory, great aliens and tech, this has everything I like in a sci-fi combined with a lot of what I like in a mystery. And Dawson’s next trick was apparently doing the same for Moby Dick, so fuck it all. Four stars.


Between Mountain and Sea: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


SPSFC Round 1 week 4 gave me the opportunity to check out Between Mountain and Sea, by Louisa Locke.

Between Mountain and Sea is a genuinely moving look at a human diaspora fitted around a coming of age and sins-of-the-father (or in this case great-great grandparent, but also kinda father, really) drama. Some initial difficulty with past and present tense in the prologue was really the only writing issue I spotted here, and it was absolutely minor. From there, we move into a really nice structure of present-day personal adventure with an unfolding distant-past drama in the form of diary entries from a long-gone spacefaring ancestor.

The story takes place on New Eden, continuing our theme of planets humans move to and call “Eden” which – okay, this is only the second one so far and it’s totally fair enough. An all-too-realistic premise of ten Bezosian / Gatesesque / Musky-arse super-rich corporate families and their space-peons forming an armada to escape Earth as it drowns in their excess fuels the plot, along with a gut-wrenching eleventh ship promised to the normies that was absolutely scuttled for parts and left to die in space, or something equally horrible. But there are more stories in the Caelestis Series (and / or the Paradisi Chronicles), so there is definitely more to learn here.

Upon this ugly foundation, a literal and allegorical New World is built, complete with oppressed and victimised natives, destroyed cultures, colonisers and a dynamic between sentients, sapients and the natural world that was extremely compelling and at the same time very uncomfortable to read. I enjoyed the Welsh-leaning ddaeran language and – despite some initial hesitancy – the Chinese and Hakka cultural background of the coloniser characters.

But most important of all was the story of Mei Lin and her struggle to reconcile her past, her parents’ expectations, and her own feelings and desires. Within five minutes I wanted Mei Lin to murder her parents and become a meddalwyn herder. It was so enjoyable to read her journey, and if I can relate to this character I think it’s safe to say anyone can. There are twists and revelations aplenty, but I won’t spoil them here – except to say there’s so much satisfaction in seeing Mei Lin’s shitty parents getting hoist on their own “respect your shitty parents” petard by Mei Lin’s grandparents and great-grandmother, I can’t even tell you.

The story as a whole seemed like a none-too-thinly-veiled criticism of un-empathic people, for the empathic and people who consider themselves empathic alike to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. So much so, I will even excuse Locke for cheekily working a reference to her own series of San Francisco mysteries into the narrative.

You’d be forgiven for being confused over the naming of the series, since the worldbuilding seems to have been made in a group workshop situation and is shared between several authors and story-streams. This “open source” setting is really interesting although it also left me a little bit at a loss as to how (if at all) I should credit or criticise Locke for her creative efforts. I concluded, ultimately, that all fiction worldbuilding is dependent on the author’s read, viewed and lived experiences, and this is really nothing more than a facet of that truth. It’s all good.

Sex-o-meter

No sex in this one, unless you count references to marriages and parentage and genealogies to be sexy. And I don’t. And this is my sex-o-meter and my review. So I’m giving this book one coquettishly winking and provocatively sheared meddalwyn out of a possible Shore Up The Genetic Diversity Of The Species Post-Planetfall Ten Ship Boink-a-thon.

Gore-o-meter

No gore either, really, because this wasn’t that sort of story. Zero flesh-gobbets out of a possible five, and that’s alright.

WTF-o-meter

WTF aplenty in this story, but again it wasn’t really the point of the story, so much as a lovely sensation of added depth to what is clearly a lovingly realised and shared world. Military scientists working on Tenebra, you say? Tantalising. The rule about not using the wormhole was instantly suspicious and fascinating, but not fully explored. The other nine settler ships and their respective cultures obviously weren’t Locke’s to mess with, and that left us with a cleverly isolated and tribal feeling to the Yu-family-based cultural slice of New Eden. Absolutely great. I’ll take that coquettishly winking and provocatively sheared meddalwyn from the sex-o-meter and give Between Mountain and Sea that out of a possible same but with a hen ddynion sitting on its back, wearing a saucy hat.

My Final Verdict

This was an excellent story. Screw it, I’ll give it five stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. No notes. You know, aside from all the notes *gestures vaguely at the wall of text above*. Really interesting and enjoyable read, good job and thank you!


Shepherds: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


This week I dived into Shepherds, by J. Drew Brumbaugh. It’s a near-ish-future aquatic sci-fi so that’s the level I’m at with the whole ‘dived in’ thing. I’m not even sorry.

This was a really interesting and suspenseful action drama, let down by one tiny thing that I think would probably be pretty easy to write out of the story or otherwise minimise. The author is just a little bit too keen on describing the female characters. Specifically, their boobies.

Now look, I like boobies. So do a lot of readers. All up and down the gender and sexuality spectrum, boobies are a thing that unite an awful lot of us. Boobies are great.

Just … you know.

Anyway, if it was just the hopeless sleazy hapless villain Captain Poddington who was obsessed, that would be one thing, but it was fairly widespread. That being said, it was a really small and fixable thing, and probably also down to personal taste as well, so let’s move on. It certainly didn’t spoil the story for me.

I immediately loved that the male protagonist was a Finnish guy. No idea where it came from (Brumbaugh appears to be from the US), but Toivo was repressed, melancholy, fatalistic and deeply conflicted about his feelings regarding Russians. It’s written with knowledge. Toivo is a great, tragic, triumphant protagonist. And his boat being named Sisu is just perfect.

I know I said we were moving on but this meme demanded to be included.

Anyway, what the villains of the story lack in complexity and relatability, they more than make up for in being giant shitbags who keep you turning the page and angry-reading about until they finally get their comeuppance. The world of the late 21st Century is well-realised and (depressingly) all too plausible. The developments, in the ecology and fisheries and sociocultural / bio-science issues … all really nice. Subtle, and not infodumped too extensively, but that gives it an intimate feel. Like the Pacific ocean isn’t all that big, really (when, you know, by the end of the 21st Century if anything it’s probably going to be even bigger than it is now).

The dolphin sub-plot is nice, understated and clever, not overblown and somehow not silly despite the fact that it lands somewhere between Flipper and Seaquest DSV. The revelation of the deep history and mythos of the dolphin species, as well as their ‘religion’, was really interesting. Their use, as scouts and helpers, swung between extremely effective and kinda pointless, but it was far more often the former.

The action kept the pages turning, the ending was darn exciting, and the human drama was refreshingly innocent. People are people, no matter whether they have webbed fingers or are Russian!

I think we can all learn something from that.

Sex-o-meter

A couple of raunchy old sex scenes in this one, and an awful lot of male gaze, for better or worse … but for all that, I think the emotional connections between the characters were more important than the physical ones – and that came through in the story. One Nemo and eight hundred and fifty assorted Wendy Juniors and Marlon Juniors out of a possible mass shoal spawning that turns the ocean to cold chowder with its explosive, instinct-driven passion.

Gore-o-meter

Shepherds boasts some brutal murders, but what hit hardest for me was the hate behind a lot of the killing, the fear of the alien, and of course the senseless butchery-for-profit of the sweet and Douglas-Adamsian dolphins (the main difference being these ones didn’t fuck off when Earth was about to be destroyed). It was a gut punch every time. It just … wasn’t all that gory. Let’s give it two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

It all hung together quite nicely, the genetic engineering and the cultural and religious backlash against it, the future of human farming and drug-running and corporate greed and all the rest of it. Not really much in the way of WTF at all, I was just left reading about a world with a history I wanted to learn more of. I’ll award this one 17% of a Kyle MacLachlan out of a possible David Lynch production.

My Final Verdict

Shepherds was interesting to read and while a lot of its characters could have used a bit more rounding out, I cared about them and was happy with how it all went. I’ll give it a very solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale, although I would have been inclined to give it three-and-a-half if I could. Good stuff!


Silicon Override: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


My latest read was Silicon Override, by Shawn Ketcherside. Let’s take a look, shall we?

This action-packed techno thriller started in a fairly muted way, with a nice buildup of sympathetic and relatable characters (Chase and Abbey, and arguably Doctor Edwards who I immediately pictured as Sigourney Weaver and to be honest that was a difficult one to shake so I just went with it). Maybe a bit more of a hook is needed to pull the reader in. If you’re going to have a Jurassic Park-style Hammond-video intro that the protagonist doesn’t listen to, then make either the information in the video or the protagonist not listening to it the main point of the chapter. And if you go with the latter, the protagonist needs to do something else interesting, like eat a bunch of sunflower seeds and spit the husks all over the exposition-giver.

What am I talking about?

Well, Chase has a backstory and it’s important to the narrative, but at the point we were just starting out I had to wonder why he had worked so desperately to get in on the ArcSIS project and was so desperate to work there (in ‘app development’, which … okay I’ll get to that), but then so aggressively refused to take part in viewing the introductory video, or any kind of preparation for the job, or the orientation even though he was being given a personal orientation tour and assistance by the female protagonist he was definitely kind of super into at first sight, or … well, any of it. Just didn’t make sense to me why Chase’s motivations and actions were so unclear and he was going into ArcSIS with such a vague yet churlish yet super-keen yet meh attitude. That did fold kind of nicely into his ultimate fate and his lack of an emotional aura (I’ll get to that too), though. So, okay.

Also, I’m afraid I completely missed what ‘ArcSIS’ stood for or meant. It’s a cool name and stuff but I somehow managed to not see it expanded anywhere. I’m pretty sure that’s on me, though.

ArcSIS is a little city under the sea, a technological wonderland isolated from the world. The potential of its construction and setup is unlimited. The things all the scientists who live there could be doing is very exciting. And the inclusion of all the necessary behind-the-scenes people (and making them into main characters) was really great the more I think about it. Those people are necessary, and often forgotten, and you can tell that Ketcherside gets that. It could have been … okay, stay with me on this.

You know how, in Gremlins 2, there was this high-tech self-sustaining smart tower with a bunch of office grunts but then also a freaky lab run by Christopher Lee where they were doing, just, tons of weird shit? This was that, only it was also the ocean lab in Deep Blue Sea.

So, as tradition demands in such a setting, a bunch of gung-ho mercenaries go full Dennis Nedry on that shit and everything goes to Hell in a handbasket. Their appearance and interaction with Sigourney Weaver, and everything that happens with them, is weird but oddly readable nonsense. I had fun.

Should Chase have sat down at some point and explained clearly why he wanted to work in app development in this incredible sci-fi lab? Maybe. Should Doctor Edwards have explained why Chase needed to be reassigned to some kind of management role? Sure. Should Abbey … okay, you know what? No notes on Abbey, she was great. Her weird superpower was perhaps somewhat surplus to requirements, but damn it, it was interesting.

I loved that, for a while there, it seemed like the day was going to be saved by the junior analyst grunt who was actually reading the boring data and double-checking figures and actually spotted a catastrophic problem. That was a cool little side / intro drama and definitely made me like Abbey way more than Chase.

I was less fond of the fact that, considering the fact that this was an undersea super-lab, very little of the story seemed to focus on the fact that they were under the ocean. I’m not saying there had to be a genetically engineered hyper-intelligent security octopus (although there objectively should have been), but the main point was that they had no easy way to get to the outside world or communicate with anyone, and that could have been done underground, or in space, or in Clamp Tower in the middle of New York City. The ocean needs to be a character in an undersea sci-fi setup.

As I was reading this story, I thought to myself that it definitely wouldn’t be out of place in a lineup of TV shows and movies where there are intricately-set-up and dangerous settings, lots of dudes with guns, and a gross but unique zombie outbreak scenario. There are good examples and bad examples of such adaptations, but Sigourney Weaver would definitely have to carry any TV show or movie that got made out of this one. I’d still watch the shit out of it, though.

Sex-o-meter

The male and female protagonist have an immediate thing for each other and eventually share a tender kiss. The beefy head of security is doinking the male protagonist’s mum off-page. I award Silicon Override one very small piano player and accompanying musical instrument out of a possible Carry On movie.

Gore-o-meter

The gore wins the day in this one, even if it wasn’t too explicitly written. Lots of firefights and cold-blooded executions, tons of zombie violence. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for Silicon Override.

WTF-o-meter

The phrases you’re kidding / joking, and you can’t be serious, were used just a little too regularly and at a certain point I started to get a funny surreal jolt every time a character said it. At no point in the story was shit not serious, so why anyone would be joking … I know it’s a figure of speech but it’s – anyway. I also liked the fact that different people were using different terms – Trax, Initialized – instead of zombie. Which nobody seemed to even lampshade as a term they could be using (except one time, someone throws the z-word, but that’s it). Also out of nowhere they decided the group noun for the zombies was pod, which was at least sort of aquatic even if it was the only thing that was. Adrian’s increasingly cataclysmic inability to take responsibility for his own actions was hysterical. And the cyber-sphere and AI point of view stuff was fascinatingly imaginative. I’ll give this a Lawnmower Man movie out of a possible Lawnmower Man Stephen King short story. That is, very close to one another in WTF terms, but on inspection nothing alike in any way.

My Final Verdict

When you decide to combine mundane-conflict office narratives, a mother-son drama, an undersea lab getting overthrown by mercenaries, a greedy multinational corporation with dark motives, a bunch of utopia-seeking scientists, a zombie outbreak with a nanocyte twist, a junior analyst who can see people’s emotions and a lovable-nerd IT Guy plucky comic relief, that’s definitely a choice. With so much going on, the result was at once page-turning and cacophonous. I’ve got to give Silicon Override two and a half stars, which I’ll bump to three for the Amazon and Goodreads scale for the sake of the endearing banter between Chase and Rider.