Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Let’s take a moment to sit and quietly appreciate this next SPSFC contender. I’m talking about a little story named Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage: A Funny Science Fiction Comedy Book, Galaxy Cruise – Complete Series Book 1, by Your Old Pal Marcus Alexander Hart. Yes, that’s what it says on the box. Someone likes their SEO and being everyone’s old pal, I guess.

This hilarious and action-packed ride into absolute sci-fi imaginative mayhem opens with a bunch of aliens doing human (or “American” as they call it) karaoke. It is, in short, perfection.

Humanity escaped the dying Earth in an assortment of ships, their occupants in cryogenic suspension. Most of them were lost or destroyed, and one – the ship launched from the USA – meandered off into space and was picked up four thousand years later by representatives of a strange alien union. They arrived at their own preconceptions of what these odd mammals were like based on their fragmented computer archives, then thawed out the actual people and put them on a refugee moon they called Eaglehaven.

Fast forward (I’m not sure how many, I think I missed it) years or generations. Our hero, Leo MacGavin, is an unwilling Dave Listeresque / Arthur Dentian space adventurer, stuck in a role he’s not happy with and looking forward to getting back to his home. At first I was puzzled because his job seemed amazingly fun and exciting, but yeah, no – all the aliens he’s forced to deal with are awful and the rest of humanity are right to not have any interest in leaving their new atmosphere. And humans are hysterically misunderstood and held in hilariously low regard.

I can really do no better than to copy-paste Hart’s own summary, which nails every single reference and homage I otherwise would have pointed out, and a couple I would have missed:

Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage is a hilarious science fiction comedy adventure for readers who love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Space Team. And moviegoers who love Galaxy QuestSpaceballs, and Guardians of the Galaxy. And TV watchers who love Red DwarfFuturama, and The Orville. And people who basically just want to see The Love Boat on a spaceship.

Yes. There was also a Jurassic Park joke in there that should be acknowledged. And the cat people being from the planet Gellico is just *chef’s kiss*.

Leo is quickly flung into the thick of things as he is adopted by a Ba’lux human (American) fetishist. The Ba’lux are basically a highly technological and advanced race of evil aliens who rule the “union” into which the humans of Eaglehaven have been dropped. And when Leo is dragged into a bet between competing Ba’lux executives, he quickly ends up in an impossible situation. He has to captain a luxury starship, crewed by aliens who hate him and filled with tourists who think he’s a pet, on a vacation cruise – and if the cruise fails, his homeworld will be covered in poops.

It’s simple, it’s hilarious, and it’s the plot of this book.

This is a comedy, it is colourful and surreal, and it is crammed with outlandish aliens the likes of which I have been starved in this Star Trek dominated “aliens look like humans with alterations according to makeup budget” landscape. It is in no way sacrilegious to put this story in the same breath as Hitchhiker’s Guide. It’s valid. Valid, I say.

But let’s look past the jokes, because some readers (and a fucking exhausting number of critics) are so stuffy and serious and grimdark these days. Is there more to this story than just slapstick action, hyper-colourful wacky aliens, hilarious dialogue and entertaining sci-fi adventure  scenarios? I know, there doesn’t need to be any more than that. That is more than enough. But is there?

Yes. Yes there is. The stakes are real. The xenophobia, the unfairness, the cultural blindness and hypocrisy and self-righteousness, is perfectly balanced and the humour of it is a perfect way to make the medicine go down. The lampshading of planetary single-culture homogeneity we see in most sci-fi is flawless. And the characters, though cartoonish, have complex personalities and motivations. You could not ask for a deeper study of cultural appropriation, the fetishisation of the exotic, and the well-meaning yet harmful attitudes that exist at the far end of the xenophobia and supremacy scale. Not while also making you laugh. The closing exposition was so hilariously drawn-out, but so perfectly weighted and paced, I was left in awe.

Sometimes a story is good enough to make you think. But if you don’t want to think, then it’s a rare story that can still be good on that level. And there are absolutely hidden depths to this book that you will only appreciate on a second reading. I could not recommend it more, and I’m going to add the sequels to my to-read pile just as soon as I can. There’s a whole-arse series, and I may have to get them in paperback.


At last, we get interspecies rumpy pumpy between a sexy cat girl and a hot houseplant (that is a quarter catnip on her mother’s side). Bless this man and every moment he spends with his hands on the keyboard. This book scores a James T. Kirk out of a possible Charlie Kirk on the sex-o-meter.


For a book that is a comedy at heart and a light-hearted adventure first, second and third, there is a decent amount of violence and gore. Yes, most of the grossness is just in the lurid descriptions of the aliens, and a lot of the violence is comedic slapstick, but there’s a very real sense of the danger – Galaxy Cruise: The Maiden Voyage gets two quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


I mean … the Waylade Tour Fleet’s initialism is literally “WTF”, and they talk about it a lot. And all these aliens! So many questions. Did T. S. Eliot have contact with Gellicles at some point, leading to his creation of Jellicle Cats? And what is a blue hole? Does it spew time? Engines dead? Air supply low? Advice please. This one gets a wibbly wobbly orange swirly thing in space out of a possible Vogon poetry jam on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

On a personal level, I should have been infuriated by this book. It’s like a surrealist comedy version of one of my own stories, right down to the unfair bet made by the snooty federation-leaders and the human captain backed up by the true believer … but nope. I’m here for it, and I couldn’t approve more. Huck is the funniest swear ever. I’m giving this book five stars, but only because I can’t give it six.

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Bragg for Hire: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Next in line for the Edpool treatment for SPSFC2 was Bragg For Hire, by John B. Cheek.

You know, every time I launch into a sci-fi action novel it’s a coin toss. Is this tough, grizzled noir-y living weapon with the haunted past and the mercs on his six actually a good character and the author knows what they’re doing? Or is the author absolutely sincere about this tough, grizzled noir-y living weapon with the haunted past and the mercs on his six being the one that will work, if they just commit to the trope extra hard?

Usually, it can be up to halfway through the book before I know for sure. Sometimes, even when it’s clear the author really means it, it’s okay because they’ve written it really well. Sometimes – and I have to say this is more an issue with traditionally published books than indie – the result is tiresome as fuck.

This time, as dubious as I was at the outset, I knew within a few pages. This character, this archetype is being handled cleverly, with good humour and strong knowledge of the terrain.

It’s funny though, isn’t it? I didn’t like the name Bragg. But Atticus Bragg? That I like. Walt was also likeable. I love his poetry and their banter is top-notch.

I should start at the start. Atticus Bragg is a career soldier turned mercenary after a series of events related to his refusal to leave comrades behind even if it means defying orders forced him out of the Imperial armed forces. This has left him something of an overblown folk hero among the grunts, much to his own bemusement, and simultaneously admired-but-not-publicly-acknowledged by the good brass, and loathed and looked down upon by the bad brass. We open on an amusing mercenary job as he attempts to get a diplomat to safety in one piece and manages to do one of those things. There is amusing action banter and quips and we get an excellent view of what this character is like.

From there, the main plot unfolds. Bragg is sent back to the planet he just evacuated the 85% of a diplomat from, this time to babysit a nobleman doing his mandatory armed service for political reasons. The planet is hostile and populated by an assortment of bugs and other critters, talks have broken down and the Empire is giving the place a bit of a stomping, and the babysitting job is supposed to be well away from the front lines and safe.

Lord Rail (see, this is how you name characters! Are our protagonists Atticus and Walt about to be railroaded into some kind of peril?) is not happy at being given such a clearly condescending command and he definitely doesn’t like the rough-and-ready mercenary attached to his unit against his wishes. It’s a simple and excellent setup, and I was relishing the idea of Bragg having to work his way into the good graces of this wealthy dingleberry and earn his role as advisor. Lord Rail gave me strong Arnold Rimmer vibes, and I loved it.

Of course, things go bad and the platoon ends up deep behind enemy lines in an alien-monster-infested wilderness. Getting into position as Rail’s trusted advisor becomes something of a ticking clock challenge as food begins to run out and soldiers begin dropping like flies. Or, more accurately, like humans being attacked by an assortment of horrifying alien insects. Thanks in very large part to Rail being a bit of a fuckwit.

What happens next is one part Platoon, one part Heart of Darkness, one part Predator, one part Saving Private Ryan, one part David Attenborough nature documentary and two parts Starship Troopers, and it was a lot of fun to read. Cool bugs, a thoughtful eye to xenobiology, good stuff all round. The ending was solid and the closure – and setup for further adventures – was good without being a total cliffhanger. Satisfying without being a complete vindication of the unfairness with which Bragg was treated. I was entertained.


There wasn’t much. No time for sex really, and (not that this is necessarily a prerequisite but I’m just saying) there was really only one named female character who was set up as something of a potential sex-interest, but all in all it was handled sensibly. They weren’t going to fuck down there on the planet, were they? No. Too many bugs. It was fine. Bragg for Hire gets a regular-to-insect-intensive picnic out of a possible fun sexy porno picnic on the sex-o-meter.


We got quite a bit of gore. Whenever you get humans on a giant bug planet (or bring the bug planet to them) you’re going to get a fair amount of humans ripped to pieces by horrible gleaming chitinous mandibles, and this book did not disappoint. The afflicted were kind of gross too, the whole food chain and life cycle was really well handled although I have to say the characters were all a bit slow on the uptake about those guys when they started itching from the inside … yes, after a certain point they played the “we all know exactly what’s about to happen” card, but it still felt like a realisation that came too late. What else could they have done though? Who knows. Anyway, three and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


Not much WTF, this is a classic sci-fi action story and the world makes as much sense as any horrible alien bug world where everything is trying to kill you. The unanswered questions about the wider world-building, the Empire, and what sort of mining operation was going on before things went bad … well, it’s all mild WTF, but basically is an alien bug analogue of an advanced military culture stripping a third world nation of its resources, then getting all snooty about how savage the place is when the locals ask them to leave. No big mystery there. I give it a Klendathu out of a possible Spheron I.

My Final Verdict

I mean … the mutinous soldiers were kind of right, weren’t they? When an officer goes nuts and starts shooting people, they need to take him out? Isn’t that a bit of an exception to the insubordination rule? Or at least a medical case that the doctor could claim? Oh well. Anyway, this was a good read. Rail’s turnaround was inevitable, but still seemed to come a bit abruptly. Nevertheless, it was well earned. As was the four stars I will give this book on Amazon and Goodreads.

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The Miranda Project: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Next up for Team Space Leftovers was The Miranda Project, The Miranda Project Trilogy, Part 1, by Matthew Cesca. First, a quick bit of SPSFC-related housekeeping though. The ebook I received for judging purposes had some formatting issues – probably to do with the page numbering in the manuscript from which the .mobi or .epub was made. Just a heads up, I am not sure if it is in the commercially available version. From the “Look inside” I lazily did over on Amazon, it looks like it’s clean. Either way it didn’t bother me much, it was just a little weird. Let’s chalk it up to a delivery issue on the copy.

Now on with the show.

The book opens with a content warning for sex, violence and psychological trauma, and  a dedication to Cesca’s kid who is now old enough to read his dad’s books. This whole thing utterly charmed me, and not just because my name is Andrew. I relate on many levels – and of course the content warning (its far more noble primary function notwithstanding) left me interested to find out what sort of dark entertainment was in store.

Still! None of this affected my judgement in the slightest, and it didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes as we were introduced to our protagonist, Trevor “Alex” Alexander, a tough loner on the run, with powers with which he has been crafted into a trained weapon. Here we go, I thought. It’s the cool action hero. Oh well. So much for that. Better luck next-

Ah but you see, it’s what you do with it. And this one was well worth sticking around for. I mean, if you’re not a big fan of the action-man trope, rest assured it gets better. And if you are a fan of the action-man trope (and heck, plenty of people are!), then you’re in for a treat. As far as action men go, Alex is a pretty damn great one – and with plenty of actual depth and sympathetic vibes for those of us with a little bit of fucking culture, there I said it.

To set the scene, the “Agency” (think “the Psi Corps“) gathers up people who manifest psychic abilities. These started occurring in humanity a generation or two previously, and nobody seems to know why. It didn’t take long for the KGB-descended shady world government (centred in Moscow, intriguingly) to realise they were going to make useful tools, though – and be devastating threats to their power if left free. And so the Psychs – dominantly telepaths and telekinetics, but there are also other, rarer manifestations of different powers – are taken in and turned into nice obedient government attack dogs. Alex escaped, through a plot point I won’t spoil, and has been on the run ever since.

Alex is on Mars, hiding out since the Agency doesn’t have much presence there – humanity is widespread across the solar system, giving us an excellent backdrop for this ostensibly simple action scenario. There’s a lot going on, from the Martian terraforming project to the overall simmering political situation, and we get just enough glimpses into it all to lend context to Alex’s struggle and make the whole story that much richer.

I was thrown momentarily by the fascinating iron-heavy infrastructure in the old Mars settlement, and whether it was rusting due to oxygenation, as it says in the book, or oxidation. But it didn’t stall me for long and we were back in business.

The truth behind Alex’s past, and the lengths to which his old family will go to bring him back into the fold, gradually emerges as he continues his struggle for freedom against the sinister Agency. It all leads Alex and his unlikely ally Hannah Diaz to Miranda, a moon of Uranus, where the Agency has an important base of operations.

I really enjoyed the informative and detail-filled tour of the solar system that this story took us on in the course of Alex and Hannah’s adventure. Indeed, after a while I found I was enjoying the journey – and the developing relationship between the two protagonists – so much that I stopped taking notes for the review. It’s a rare thing in my experience, to have a thrust-together couple become close in a believable and compelling way, but Cesca managed it. Were some of the character arc support struts (“pretend to be a married couple to evade detection”, “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal”, “turns out the love interest is [SPOILER]”) a bit contrived? Sure! It’s a story, y’all. And a good one.

There were entertaining parallels with The Lore of Prometheus, mainly in the superpowers on display and the character dynamic, and of course there was a certain amount of X-Men, in particular I felt a homage to Logan helping save the young Xavier kiddies from the clutches of Stryker. And, as I hinted at, there’s a solid tip of the hat to Babylon 5 in the treatment of people with psionic abilities. And as usually happens with  my comparisons and references, I’m making the story sound unoriginal but nothing could be further from the truth. There were familiar beats here, but the story was in no way derivative. And the ending was solid – a satisfying conclusion for a stand-alone, or a great opening piece for a trilogy.


There is a sweet romance through the story, with a well-earned and well-written pay-off. This results in one (1) sex, and it’s a sex-with-a-disclaimer of sorts, but all in all we’re getting readings in the low digglers for this book. Barely half a nanosiffredi.


It’s pretty good. Some spree, as one would rightfully expect. Some government brainwashing and allied scenes. Nothing you won’t have been fully prepared for by reading the content warning. Two quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


We don’t get a lot of WTF for our buck, but that’s okay. The origin of the Psychs’ powers remains a mystery, and Alex’s own powers – and their limits – are an unanswered question for later books to take up. The backstory of United Separatist Movement and their attempts to make America (the US? Or all of America?) independent again, is intriguing as well, but there’s not much actual WTF to be had. The Miranda Project gets a human out of a possible Vorlon on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

Apparently this is Cesca’s first sci-fi from a fantasy background, and sure – you could say it’s a little bit paint-by-numbers in some parts. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because these are solid storytelling ingredients and he nailed it. This was great. The noir pulp opening had me briefly concerned but I see what the aim was there, in revealing the true nature of the man. At every step, respect and goodness shone through in the characters and the storytelling. Five stars.

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Zenith: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Today we’re going to talk about Zenith, The Interscission Project Book 1, by Arshad Ahsanuddin.

Our story opens on a military-esque large-scale funeral following “the Trinity Spacelines disaster”. Shitty politicians pontificate, and our protagonist Commander Martin Atkins stands by, feeling crappy and responsible for the tragedy. He’s approached, very inappropriately, and offered a job by an “aggressively ordinary man,” which I just love, incidentally. No notes.

The job: pilot aboard the Zenith, an experimental ship with new gravity drive technology (the Zenith Project, precursor to the Azimuth Project, all of which are connected to the Interscission Project which is the title of the book series) that I completely failed to understand because nobody ever pushed a pencil through a folded piece of paper. For a while I was wondering if the other potential pilots were killed off before Marty was hired, hence the Trinity Spacelines disaster … but don’t worry, all that becomes dramatically clear later on.

Speaking of aggressively ordinary … I despaired of ever telling Martin and Henry and Charles and Jennifer and Edward and Trevor and Martin’s identical twin Jacob apart, oh my God. I got there in the end (mostly … I think), but it was a challenge. Edward was blind and had holographic eyeglasses so that helped. Actually there were a couple of sets of twins in the story and ironically they were easier to distinguish than some of the others.

And this was before the time travel started.
You heard me.

What followed, for a huge proportion of the book, was a setup and character and relationship study. In hindsight I can assure you that it all came together and was worth it, but I’m not going to lie – it was a bit of a slog following all the interpersonal dramas and setting out who was who and who was who to each other. The first 42% of the book was kind of like the TV adaptation of Winx (I watched it with my daughters shut the fuck up), with a bunch of people I didn’t really care about and couldn’t tell apart having angst and issues and rivalries when the premise of the story had assured me there would be cool magic fairy girls.

That’s as harsh as I will get. Like I say, it was all worth it in the end, it all checked out and fell into place, and I think plenty of readers will appreciate the complexity of the human setup even from the start. I appreciated it in the end, and I’m obviously shit at this.

The Zenith Project’s aim was to jump to Alpha Centauri using their new gravity tech, make sure everything works, then pave the way for the Azimuth Project which would be a larger-scale colonisation effort. There is project preparation, design and training, simulations and some light (and mysterious!) sabotage in amongst the interpersonal development which – I cannot stress this enough – is all totally worth it in the end and pays off really nicely. I did make a note about 30% in that “seems like sabotage is the only way to get these characters moving”, but even that was a false start. They launch eventually though, and that’s when things start getting really weird.

Martin (after a somewhat baffling moment with Henry who I think is the CEO of the company that runs the project, wherein Henry gets Martin to promise not to take control against his orders in an emergency situation to save everyone’s lives again, why) is named Captain of the Zenith. Charles (who is dating Jennifer, but is the pined-for love of Martin’s life) is also there, he gives Trevor the “stop being a dipshit child” talk, so I don’t care about anything else, I love him. Trevor does something to fix the Zenith so there won’t be any accidents like the one that claimed … Edward’s mother, and his sight? Stella, Edward’s twin sister, forgives Trevor – but for what?

Well. I honestly don’t think I should tell you. You have to earn this shit.

Like I was saying – 42% into the story is where the Zenith actually launches, the mission starts, and it also marks the point at which I began to realise I’d come into the whole story with the wrong idea of what was supposed to be happening. The slow burn is real. The Zenith jumps to Alpha Centauri, and pops out in the middle of a space minefield. From the future.



Considering the sheer volume of wordiage devoted to interpersonal hanky panky, it was all rather sweet. We do get a big ol’ sex, but not much for the romance-novel scale we’re operating at for the first half of the novel (and I say that without bitterness, I was fine with it). I will say that Edward’s relationship with Martin is super weird, though, and I don’t mean because it’s gay. This book is registering at three and a half Marties McFly out of a possible Morty Smith on the sex-o-meter.


There isn’t much violence in this, although there are some fights and deaths and assorted sci-fi carnage. One quivering flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.


As I hinted a couple of times here, there’s time travel up in this bad boy and that turns an otherwise dry and ungripping story into a WTF spectacular any day of the week. I was super impressed with the time travel mechanic and entertained by the paradox dialogue that took place between some of the characters. Just don’t ask me to name the characters, that’s all. Five hundred and seventy-three million, eight hundred and forty-six thousand and twelve Docs Brown out of a possible Citadel of Docs.

My Final Verdict

Trevor was like the human avatar for this whole book: his behaviour and attitude irritated the absolute fuck out of me at the start, and then by the end he got his shit together and earned my grudging, perhaps even wholehearted respect. So, eyes on Trevor while reading this book? Why not, let’s go with that. I was also charmed by the similarities to the Star Trek: Voyager arc, The Year of Hell.

“I’m gonna break Alpha Centauri off in your ass.”

So yeah. Three stars? Sure, three stars. This was fun.

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Quantum Dark: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Next up for Team Space Leftovers and the SPSFC is Quantum Dark: The Classic Sci-fi Adventure, The Star Rim Empire Adventures Book 1, by R.A. Nargi.

He’s not lying, that is classic sci-fi adventure.

After bringing me in with a perfect little foreword and an entertaining Raiders of the Lost Ark introduction to the space grave robber (complete with navigation of space booby traps and inevitable space betrayal at the moment of relic-acquisition), Nargi delivered admirably on what I viewed as an ambitious promise. It wasn’t paradigm-shifting or ground-breaking, but that wasn’t the promise anyway. It was damned entertaining is what it was.

In fact, the prologue itself was enjoyable for its own sake but I can’t say I was gripped. I kept on through it because of the promise, and the actual start of the story revitalised my interest. And that’s fine, because at its heart Quantum Dark is nothing if not a study on paternal legacy, and meeting – and then exceeding – it.

I’m … actually not sure why it was called Quantum Dark. I only saw “quantum” mentioned once in the actual story, and it was here:

“I’ll work in parallel with the LVX.” He thumped his robot chest. “The quantum array in here is similar to a Kane lattice, so we can run inverted function Grover II algos on your dataset.”

I didn’t follow exactly what he was talking about, but remembered a phrase from one of my briefing sessions on computer technology. With enough time and qubits, nothing is out of our reach. Something like that.

So, I don’t know. Maybe it should have been called Quantum Dad. No, that would be dumb. Not that. But not not that, either. Just putting it out there.

From our Raiders of the Lost Ark prologue, we’re treated to Henry Jones (…Jr?) going full James Bond, or more accurately Bruce Wayne. Our hero is Jannigan Beck, or “Zapp Jannigan” as I was unable to keep myself from reading and seeing him, the son of Sean Beck the famous explorer – with a catch. Sean never made it back from the Belloqing he received in the prologue, so Jannigan has been filling in for him PR-wise for the past seven years. Jannigan isn’t really a hero, so much as a spoiled playboy who likes his hover-cars  fast and his women toxic, although Nargi does immediately cut through this eye-rolling setup by showing us a little bit of hidden depth to the character. I wanted to dislike Jannigan but damn it, he grew on me.

Extra points for having the Rolling Stones on tour in the 24th Century, by the way.

This story has it all. Cool planet-building and structures, great alien monsters (if a little off-page for my liking), nice action and amazing alien cultures and species and worlds and relics … everything I love about sci-fi, although I would have been happy with even more info-dumping as always.

There weren’t exactly many surprises in the narrative, although there was plenty of originality and imagination in the setup. The world-building was great, the characters (by design) somewhat cardboard-cutout-y. Although, to further soften that, I will reiterate that they had solid complexities and dimensions written into them to make them interesting. Some notes I made along the way include:

  • Not sure I get the clone angle. I get it, but … has Jannigan maintained two separate lives, as playboy Jannigan and reclusive Sean simultaneously? Too much scrutiny of that plot point makes it hard to believe it could work. Is the aging necessary if Sean supposedly youth-surgeries all the time?
  • Mmm, Lir seems like a real catch, I can see why he got engaged to her.
  • So, when is Zapp Jannigan going to find out Yates (successfully?) Belloq’d his dad? We haven’t seen Sean’s body so I’m going to assume he’s alive until further notice (obviously this note was cleared up by the end).
  • We’re running a bit heavy on the aesthetic description of women and nothing much for the men, but it’s not too breasted boobily.
  • Zapp Jannigan talks a bit too much about his real life and his uncle after they said he was Sean after leaving the briefing, because of the recording. Oops.
  • Ooh, cthulians.

Now this is sci fi. Sorry, not sorry, but it is. And there’s plenty more in the series!

I’d argue that Quantum Dark has a lovable bot. But okay.

We end on a nice high-stakes climactic finish, with a big “Jones Boys” feel to the father and son team (in fact it’s actually literal, they use the term “Beck Boys”), mirroring the Raiders of the Lost Ark start with a Last Crusade ending. Very well played.


The main narrative starts strong, opening on a three-way (or the aftermath of one), which is exciting if a little uncomfortable in some of its character specifics. Still, it was handled nicely. Beyond that, there really wasn’t much time for sex although I suppose Jannigan and Preity had cute chemistry (showing his depth) and there was a strongly hinted connection between Jannigan and Chiraine (showing that, I don’t know, male characters and female characters have the universe stacked against them when they just want to get on with their fucking story arcs?). What separates this from other books I have read recently is – well, for a start Jannigan didn’t fuck anyone else yet, so he still has an opportunity to do the right thing re: his fiancée. Since I haven’t read further I can’t say for sure, but I reserve the right to drop my opinion of him a couple of notches. Anyway I’m rambling. Three dwarf bots out of a possible dwarf, bot and dwarf bot orgy for Quantum Dark.


There’s a fair amount of space adventure violence but it could have been a lot worse. The gore-o-meter is holding steady at two gobbets out of a possible five.


This book was a real treat, with lots of lovely WTF, alien races of different levels, artifacts and relics and phenomena. The Fountain is neat. The Ark of the Covenant, I mean the Kryrk was great. All of it was a lot of fun to read and the mysteries were explained just enough to keep them fascinating. I want to know more! A Borg Cube and a Cube from the movie Cube out of a possible Bandala.

My Final Verdict

What a fun story! I’m glad this one crossed my path and I’m going to try to check out more in the series when I finally get time. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale!

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Clarity: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Today I’m here to have a quick chat about Clarity: A Young Adult Dystopian Thriller, Clarity Chronicles, Book 1 by J Lynn Hicks.

I hadn’t actually considered this a young adult story, although now I see it self-described as such and think about the intro, I guess it is a bit. Who am I to judge? We open on our protagonist Liberty, aka. Libby, a happy-go-lucky artistic type whose overbearing fashion designer mother wants her to follow in her footsteps. Liberty is attending a college of some kind and having moderate to industrial-strength angst about this hunky boy she’s keen on. Okay, it’s young adult fiction. Don’t care.

This solid character setup immediately takes a creepy turn when we find out that basically nothing is what it seems. The overwhelming majority of the population is installed with “personal reality”, PR, an extreme form of augmented reality that affects sight, taste, and to a certain degree touch to basically overwrite everything in the community’s immediate environment with a utopian world of peace, plenty and beauty. The second that system switches off, the world is revealed as grimy, rotten, falling-apart and slowly bleaching itself to death under a burning sun and degenerating atmosphere.

Told from the first-person perspective of Liberty, we watch as she is brought into the world of “Clarity” by her tech-activist father and begins to realise that living without illusions is really fucking hard, actually. Especially when almost everyone else prefers the illusion to reality, and even a lot of the people with Clarity (like the cops, and assorted grifters) are not on board with upsetting the sheeple.

There’s more to it, and the story unfolds chapter by chapter in intriguing, often-disgusting, increasingly-complex ways. The history and the fate of the world, the shady organisations behind the scenes taking advantage of the illusion-wrapped livestock, and the very close-to-home question of how we got there from here – all present themselves as part of Liberty’s harrowing journey of discovery.

The tech of PR is largely not stated in much detail, but is understood to be implanted and centrally controlled by way of a network coverage type deal. You don’t really need to know how it works, just what it does. I was reminded of the cyberpunk book ARvekt, which also handled an all-pervasive augmented-reality culture and what happens when you switch off the integrated headset. Clarity shows this contrast really well, and the human element of willing self-delusion is perfectly captured.

Ignorance is not knowing what Cypher is really eating.

The story is riddled with tiny moments that allow the reader to follow a thread in their own imaginations, and what the implications are for the PR swaddled world. “Probably a peep” was a perfect and horrible little moment like that. When everybody else is seeing another world entirely, the potential for abuse can be communal or intimate. Another one was Graceon, the barely-mentioned retirement village where I am willing to bet old people are Soylent Green’d.

Of course, there was a certain amount of confusion for me, with the PR mechanic. Some people were completely outside of PR, Clarity-native, and they seemed to be invisible to the people in PR, but not always? Then there were some who could see in Clarity, but could also alter their appearances in PR and take part in everyday PR life. Did Liberty wind up looking like she was talking to herself when she talked with Clarity folks, or was she also projecting a non-crazy avatar sometimes? Seems like she wasn’t, a lot of the time. The rules were a bit difficult to follow, and who was visible and audible to whom was a bit muddled. That could be on me as much as Hicks, though.

Also I would have expected a lot more abuse from the Clarity-native cops, but that’s just me. I sort of got the idea, in the lieutenant’s interaction with Liberty, that they had become very complacent and lazy when dealing with the PR sheeple because the civilians didn’t really think, didn’t do anything outside the lines, and were basically completely open and vulnerable to authorities who could literally see through them. But I would have expected worse. And the existence of have-nots on the other side of the river, I would have expected to be a bigger deal.

I am not certain how even PR managed to maintain an illusion of safety and health, furthermore, when everything was broken and falling apart. There were references to minimal health facilities and minimal need for them, but people would forever be cutting themselves on jagged and rusty shit, falling off busted furniture or out of houses, and let’s not even start on the “food”. How people weren’t dropping like flies is a bit of a mystery.

Anyway, it was all very cool.


None. No sex in this one, and only the lightest hint of romance. It’s not really a needed part of this story anyway, although the groundwork was all nicely set and I imagine it will become more focal in later stories. Clarity gets a Trinity getting on a motorbike out of a possible hilariously photoshopped Trinity getting on a motorbike and showing her massive curvaceous badonkadonk on the sex-o-meter.


Again, nothing much in the violence stakes although there was plenty of action, and a lot of psychological violence and grossness – mainly centred around disgusting food. Still, this wasn’t a gory one. Half a quivering flesh-gobbet out of a possible five, although I suppose half a gobbet is still really a gobbet, just a smaller gobbet than usual. Makes you think.


Plenty of action on the WTF-o-meter in this one, as one would expect with a story based in an augmented-reality-hidden dystopia. Aside from the questions of mechanics and consistency, the very idea of an artificially imposed fake reality to keep people from self-destructing (or tearing down the authorities who doomed them) over climate collapse is … mmm, what a perfect concept. A narwhal in VR goggles swimming with crocodiles in VR goggles out of a possible human in VR goggles swimming with crocodiles that are not wearing VR goggles. Also there’s a narwhal there.

My Final Verdict

Great story, really well told and with highly enjoyable imagination and visuals. Four stars!

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Alien Exit: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Starting the new year with an #SPSFC review of Alien Exit, by Geoff Nelder. For better or worse, here we go.

Okay, so right off the bat I have to say I preferred the original title: Exit, Pursued by a Bee as it said in the opening notes. And after reading the story, I see what Nelder was going for there. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked as a title? Oh well. Such is life.

We open on a quite florid and poetical setup at Glastonbury Festival with some heavy writing that circles back on itself later in the book. I was sceptical of it from the outset but the idea of a manned mission to Mars with this quirky protagonist couple could have excused a whole lot more flowery prose than what we got. Anyway, it was Glastonbury!

Well sorry, but the whole Mars mission thing didn’t happen.

I’m not even mad, this was worth it.

Instead, there was an earthquake and Glastonbury Tor collapsed and some weird phenomena began rising from the wreckage. This event is repeated all over the world in an assortment of ancient sacred or sacred-adjacent sites, and strange unnatural spheres begin floating up into the sky. Frankly I was too hung up on Derek’s habit of eating his own earwax to pay much attention.

I’m serious. How many times did that need to be mentioned as a dominant, nay defining, nay sole character trait? Still, made him less of a sympathetic figure when his fiancée cheated on him I guess.

What followed was a very imaginative and interesting story of baffling alien weirdness, time-phenomena and humanity’s insignificance in the face of unimaginably advanced entities … almost completely tanked by the characters involved. I can really do no better than my esteemed fellow reviewer Starr in her “did not finish” summary:

At 50% in I was wondering why I was even continuing to read, I didn’t like the characters. They didn’t really fit their roles- or maybe it was my expectations. They are young adults -18/19ish years old, but they are working for NASA. Which would imply some sort of maturity and discipline. But Derek eats his own earwax and Kallanadra was a reckless maverick … the whole book is full of faulty hypotheses and chasing metal balls.

With the emergence of the spheres, time starts to behave in odd ways. Timequakes begin to occur, localised and widespread. The Bermuda Triangle is mentioned. Helicopter crashes, human/sphere interactions and acts of hostility are rewound and undone and hair falls out and it’s all very interesting and strange. We skip to 20,000 years in the past to show the spheres existing in different sizes and at different times, and that whole interchange of scenes was really intriguing, although Blake was … okay, aside from Kur he was one of the best characters, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear. I have to take my hat off to the craft involved in making the characters so unlikeable, even as I have to question why that was a thing that was done.

They even mention that other celestial bodies in the solar system have cratering that suggests these spheres were widespread, and we could have had a perfect opportunity to lean into the 2001-style monolith mystery by having them do all this on Mars (or maybe that would have been a bit too on the nose, I don’t know … I feel like it could have been done well). But instead they didn’t go to Mars, they just went into space and fucked.

Literally me.

So. Derek and his flaws we know about. Claude is a giant fucking arsehole and Kallandra is actively fine with that even though she seems to want to pretend not to be[1]. Wish, who I think is supposed to be a semi-sympathetic villain of the piece, is a (single?) mother attempting to make it as a journalist by spewing misinformation and sowing divisiveness, and alternately being slapped down for it and rewarded for it by the media corporations that would definitely only reward her for it, also I think she goes mad with jealous love over Claude and what happens with him. I just didn’t get it.

And then the story ended. Let’s take a look at what the meters have to say.


We get some gross probe-dreams, and Kallandra and Claude fuck each other in space. I honestly can’t fault her but seriously, all these people can go to Hell. This story gets a Buffy fucking Angel out of a possible Buffy fucking Spike on the sex-o-meter. That’s reasonably tame, just for reference.


There’s a little bit of gore as a timequake cuts at least one dude in half, but otherwise there’s not much here. But MY GOD, how many times does Derek have to eat his own earwax? STOP. I’m adding a gobbet for that. So one flesh-gobbet and one earwax-gobbet for a total of two gobbets out of a possible five.


Plenty of really good WTF in this story but it was sadly hard to focus on. I love a good wacky alien tech-bordering-on-magic story and this was a solid one. I can’t help but wonder, though: if Blake went back in time, was given a knife, then came forward, why would the carbon dating reveal the knife was 20,000 years old? Was it 20,000 years old when Blake got it?  Or did it age as it came with him? Wouldn’t it have been basically new? Anyway, I give Alien Exit a sphere out of a possible sphere on the WTF-o-meter. Those spheres, incidentally, are interchangeable alien sphere artifacts from any sci-fi story you choose to reference that has spheres in it. There are plenty, and this is a worthy addition for all my complaining.

My Final Verdict

The Golden Gate Bridge gets destroyed, which checks the “this is a science fiction action disaster story” box. “Aussie” has an “e” at the end, it isn’t spelled “Aussi”. I couldn’t find anywhere else to write this so it’s going in the final verdict. All in all I felt a bit let down by what could have been a really interesting sci-fi surrealist adventure. Someone with more appreciation of the complex human element might enjoy this on its own merits and to them I say, enjoy. Two stars.


[1] Look, I’m not going to bear down on this too hard for the infidelity angle. Monogamy isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. I got the impression these characters were kind of immature for this sort of expectation anyway. However, the commitment is real and if you’re not going to commit, the bare minimum you can do is let the other person know that you’re going to fucking biff it. So well done on making the hero of your story look like a shitty childish arsehole compared to the guy who eats his own earwax. That’s an achievement and I’m not even being sarcastic.

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I, Cunningham: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Alright, we’re moving on to I, Cunningham, by Benoit Goudreault-Emond. Can’t stop, won’t stop. The big old SPSFC clock is ticking.

I was charmed by the Asimov homage in the title and this book did not disappoint – it was a worthy love letter to the great old monsters of science fiction, and was a simple yet suitably dizzying read. And it had footnotes!

Now, I have some kinks when it comes to reading. I love a good infodump, which plenty of readers and authors and would-be how-to gurus say is a no-no. I also enjoy footnotes, whether they are Pratchettesque asides or full-blown Weis-Hickmanian essays in appendix form. When I opened this book to find a self-effacing pre-emptive apology for the over-explaining, the references, and the footnotes to come, I felt a mingling of anticipation and trepidation. Antrepidation, if you will.

And okay. I’m a pretty niche reader so take my gleeful approval with a planetoid of salt. And some of the footnotes were a bit over-explainy even for me. We know what EVA stands for and if we don’t, let people learn some things for themselves. But overall I loved the narrator voice in this, and there is no way to satisfy my appetite for infodumps. I will devour infodumps of a magnitude 1990s Tor Publishing would balk at, and then look around as if to say “what, no more dumps?”


Gordon Cunningham, an ordinary citizen of 22nd century Earth, died in an unfortunate accident.
Except he didn’t die. Not really.
Instead, he woke up stuck inside a robot. In the 29th century. Thirteen light-years from home. In a space station. Which is orbiting a planet that was meant to be a new home for the colonists. Unfortunately, everything went wrong.

We open on a strange yet engaging little action sequence, featuring characters with pointy ears and ordinal surnames attempting to get through a space-station-shuttle-jump-type scenario. These are “Alts”, as opposed to the “Stocks” that are regular humans, and immediately lets us know where we are (space), when we are (the future) and what’s going on (future space shit). Welcome to Demeter.

Our fish out of water outsider protagonist is then introduced in – well, as you see in the little bit of blurb I quoted, a jarring and entertaining way. Gordon Cunningham, regular 22nd-Century guy, suddenly finds himself in the avatar of a robot on a space station above the planet Wolf 1061 in the 29th Century. And the story unfolds from there.

I think the story could have leaned more into the concept of Cunningham being a man out of time, a time traveller of sorts figuring out the Eloi-Morlock dynamic of the Demeter branch of the human race. It would have given us more opportunity to examine the 22nd Century, which is still the future to us readers (thus setting it aside a bit from the usual time-travel narrative). However, that wasn’t what this story was ultimately about, for better or worse. Instead it is sort of … narrated from the 21st Century perspective, about the 22nd Century, as well as the 29th. Which was kind of clumsy at times but I see what the ultimate storytelling goal was there.

The role Cunningham is assigned and the mission he was sent on is weirdly open and unexplained for quite a long time too. The station leadership and the AI (named Station) just sort of let him wander around and push buttons, which struck me as odd. There is some lampshading about why Station didn’t do anything about the deteriorating situation before Cunningham’s “arrival”, but it still didn’t really answer the question. Surely Station could have found someone to help, some other approach. Oh well.

Throughout the ensuing culture-shock and sci-fi espionage sequences, Cunningham has strange bouts of “sleepiness” during which he has dreams. These are fascinating, because while it is immediately clear what is happening during these scenes, they continue to unfold and contextualise while Cunningham himself is coming to terms with a situation that’s complex enough on its face. Really nicely done.

The story also involved a little switching between first- and third-person narrative (literally “I, Cunningham” in some sections and then just “Cunningham” in others). I found it a bit disorienting (let’s be generous and say that was by design, so that’s on me but it still didn’t really work for me) and unnecessary, but sure, it kind of worked.

All in all, I really enjoyed this and only have minor personal quibbles. Things like:

  • There are some small editorial and language issues, things like “She just washed her hands with us” (should have been “washed her hands of us”)
  • 63% into the story and only now Cunningham suddenly twigs that this whole human upload thing isn’t normal? It also took him way too long to figure out (and he still had to be told by Station, and he was outraged) the truth about his “death” in his 30s
  • The final act’s series of explanations seemed a little overcomplicated and had too many moving tech-parts, but I’m inclined to forgive it. The idea of true AI and human hybridisation is interesting, and since my only complaint is that it doesn’t fit into my conception of sci-fi AIs, it’s not really a valid complaint

So let’s take a quick look at the meters. Like Goudreault-Emond says himself:

Content warning: the book presents only minimal violence and no sexual content. That said, the main character does use four letter swear words when life throws him a curve ball. Please bear with Mr. Cunningham; to say his day starts on the wrong foot is quite the understatement.


As Goudreault-Emond says, there’s no sex. A little bit of male gaze and boobies-and-booty description, but nothing too troubling. And Cunningham is pretty self-aware about it (no pun intended). I give this one a Bicentennial Man out of a possible Bi Centennial Man.


Again, there’s nothing much. There’s action, some fight scenes and a whole lot of assorted sci-fi danger (Demeter is a rough place), but no gore. Half a flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.


And there’s not even much WTF, although the whole issue of human / AI symbiosis and parallel evolution is interesting, and the final chapters really blow things open and make for a very compelling backdrop for the past and future of the Demeter civilisation. Still, I’m only getting negligible WTF readings. I, Cunningham gets a mildly-disfigured dude with a vape pen out of a possible Guild Navigator on the WTF-o-meter.

My Final Verdict

Three and a half stars, which I will bump up to four for the Amazon / Goodreads scale because this sort of storytelling might not be for everyone, but it’s for me and this is my review.

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Da Vinci on the Lam: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Moving on in our round-one readapalooza for Team Space Leftovers and the #SPSFC, the next book on my list was Da Vinci on the Lam, by B.D. Booker.

Straight off the bat, I loved the short chapter format. Each scene was a tidy snippet of action and setting and characters, and if I was reading at a more leisurely pace it would have been very welcome in terms of spots to leave off and take a break. I wasn’t taking many breaks this time (and not just because the story was so gripping), but my point remains.

Grizzled fixer Quinn (the alternate cover that I did not get on my ebook actually sums him up really nicely) is hired to act as a bodyguard and facilitator for a lady attempting to get a Da Vinci sketch across the continental US. There are several complications to this job, including but not limited to:

  • The sketch is being sought after by shady and heavily-armed government and private militia crime syndicate types
  • Transportation services are spotty at best
  • The world is shitting itself to death around our protagonists’ shoulders and it’s not a nice dignified hospital-diaper shit, it’s a gnarly wet-n-dry projectile shit that has already ruined the curtains and made several orderlies quit

Anyway here’s Quinn on a different cover than the one I got.

So, the aim of the game is to get the priceless Da Vinci sketch of the Vitruvian Man off-planet before “the grit” destroys everything. Quite why this piece of humanity’s lost brilliance is so important to so many of the characters is an increasingly surreal mystery, but the upshot of it is “it’s important to the little guys because the big guys will pay for it with stuff the big guys can afford but the little guys can’t, like life; and it’s important to the big guys because fuck you, we’re not paying you to ask questions and you’re demonstrating real little-guy thinking right now.”

I loved this story.

Earth is fucked, wholly and entirely. The story unfolds alongside some present-day ecological and climate collapse and in among flashbacks of past climate and social disaster that put the protagonists in the shitscape they’re currently trekking through. Quinn is doing it in return for passage for his daughter and her husband off-planet, even though he knows it’s likely a death sentence and there’s no happy ending on the horizon. What’s actually on the horizon is a Category 9 storm on a storm category chart that only goes to 7. It’s bleak but somehow … rock-orchestral in its absolute shambolism.

Enter the bad guys: the Onyx Group, led by a big boss literally named Big, because he’s a great bit fat bastard and that has become a status symbol – even a sex symbol – in a world of starvation and deprivation. Talk about history going full circle. As things go from bad to worse and the wealthy elites of the world retreat to domes to avoid the storms and bunkers to avoid the angry mobs, and the intellectual elites flee into space, the plebs left behind to suffer in the grit begin to realise how little they have in common with their Da Vinci loving overlords, and how much they have in common with each other.

They realise it way too late, but isn’t that just the human condition?


I racked up one (1) sex in this story, and like in some other books I’ve read recently it stuck out a little as kind of weird and sex-of-convenience-y, since the characters didn’t seem to have that sort of dynamic or chemistry going on. But how would I know? Maybe I wasn’t paying attention and the Remaker really made them attracted to each other and that was what did it? Anyway, aside from that fleeting apocalyptic shag and a bit of slimy sexy-talk from Big and his minions, this was a story that had its focus elsewhere. And that’s fine. A Skippy out of a possible Booga for Da Vinci on the Lam.


Life is cheap and humanity is rough at the end of days, but this could have been a lot grosser. We get plenty of action, some shoot-outs and deaths, but nothing too extreme. Storms kill a lot of people off-page, but off-page doesn’t count. Frankly I could have tolerated a little more gore and brutality in this one, it seemed the right place for it. But I’m not marking it down for the lack – it was fine. One and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


The emergent new life is a strange facet of this story. The grit is bizarre too, but it is all too plausible. I don’t know whether Venus is really a thing in terms of human habitation. I keep coming back to why Mars and Venus (Venus!) are more livable than Earth, with the same tech. I guess we have the bunkers and the domes on Earth too, and the story does acknowledge that a) large numbers are really not supportable off-planet and b) larger but still not huge numbers are supportable on Earth with the bunkers and domes. Not long-term. So anyway, this isn’t so much a WTF-heavy story as it is a solid eco-sci-fi and a dire warning of things to come.

My Final Verdict

If you’re easily thrown into a doom spiral over the inevitable collapse of the planet’s biosphere and the near-total eradication of the human species within our lifetimes, this may be a bit of a downer for you. Especially if you focus on the fact that the main glimmers of hope in this book – the adaptation to the grit and the new growth (let’s just gloss over the cannibalism required for protein), and the mass exodus to viable off-planet habitats – are made-up and do not exist in reality. So if this happens – and it is – then we are utterly and irredeemably fucked. Ignore that and you’ll be fine. I was fine. It’s fine. Four stars. I really liked this story. I’m having a good time.

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Mantivore Dreams: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

I just finished reading Mantivore Dreams, The Arcadian Chronicles Book 1, by S. J. Higbee, and I have some thoughts.

Truly this was a sci-fi after my own heart. Set in a strange human-settled alien world sufficiently long after planetfall that the whole place has a wacky post-apocalyptic relic-tech  feel to it, complete with a dusty old internet, it felt very old-school (John Wyndham, John Christopher, all the Johns really) while remaining very fresh and original. Kyrillia’s mother gives Ro’s dad a run for his money in the vile arsehole stakes, by the way – just to drop in a reference to another story. Sorry.

What starts out as a classic story about a misunderstood and unfairly treated young adult surrounded by ignorant and shitty hudsons[1] quickly develops into something more compelling and less frustrating, although I was worried for a while and might have given up based on some of my other reading experiences if I wasn’t committed to reading the whole book. At a very early point I unilaterally decided that if the story didn’t end in a spree I was not going to give it more than three stars, because that’s how I roll. Beneth and Felina could go un-spreed, I decided. Maybe. But the rest had to go.

Well, it didn’t end in a spree, and here we are. I was still satisfied, although I was once again sorely tempted to stop reading at the conclusion of the trial, and just pretend everything went fine from then on because I was concerned things were still going to go bad. Look, I have trust issues, okay?

What I’m trying to get at here is that the characters, and the setting, were really well done – the first act was a flawless, and painful, setup for things to come. I cared about the injustice, I knew who was right and who was wrong, and I was very clear on the stakes and the series of events. Even when things started getting a bit weird (I haven’t even talked about Vrox yet), I knew what was happening.

The middle part of the story is a literal hero’s journey as Kyrillia and Seth leave the shithole they started in and travel to several other shitholes looking for the least-shitholey place they can. It’s an excellent showcase of a strange world, at once familiar and alien, and the dangers both human and otherwise that they face. It also develops into a little bit of a love story, which I wasn’t expecting but found very charming indeed.

The hints of backstory are really nicely done. The settler ship they all arrived on, and the way the ranks and positions aboard the ship laid a blueprint for the social structure of the new world, is really cool. The slang was a little jarring and clangy, but I’m going to magnanimously allow it. And the family names were a bit on the nose, but tell that to the Carters and Smiths and Wainwrights and Bakers of the world.

Even more importantly, as someone who loves an infodump, I was well satisfied with the unexplained snippets and the drip-fed background here. It was done perfectly and didn’t leave me wanting more (except in the best possible way), despite not really having any infodumps at all. I would have happily read some, but they weren’t needed.

The third act brings it all together, as Kyrillia and Seth arrive at the Main Antagonist’s place and we find out what it was all about. Why was Kyrillia’s life the way it was, how did Vrox end up in her head (I still didn’t really talk about Vrox, did I?), and what happens next … all of it is tied up and explained. Okay, I feel maybe Higbee did Kestor a little dirty at the end there, but to be fair he was a bit slimy from the start so it checks out. I’m not going to let it bother me.

Not much more to say about this. It was a solidly crafted story with good characters and a really excellent setting and plot. Worth a read.


The whole Collaring thing is rapey as Hell, but aside from that, and a pair of rapey highway robbers, and a bit of generic background horny (GBH) … there wasn’t a whole lot of sex in this one. Mainly because every time Kyrillia’s pulse-rate went above 100 BPM, Vrox started steaming up the metaphorical car window and she stopped the show. Resultantly, this one scores a “walk the dog” yo-yo trick out of a possible “dogging” exhibitionism thing. And don’t worry, I’m getting to Vrox.


The alien ecosystem was pretty brutal, although we didn’t see much of it up-close and personal. And there were a few instances of human-on-human violence and a whole lot of assorted gross mistreatment of Vrox (just wait, okay), but ultimately I’m giving this one a single quivering flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.


So Kyrillia has this “mantivore lord”, named Vrox, who just sort of sits in her head and occasionally interjects with a bit of variably-relevant life experience. What’s the deal with that? Mantivores, essentially, are the local sentients that had been displaced by humans but were still sort of around, but mostly extinct. I won’t explain further, since it is a very neat part of the story and it was really disorienting at the start, and I wouldn’t want to rob the reader of that. As I also mentioned, the post-tech bio-internet world is equal parts alien and post-apocalyptic and I really liked it, but that wasn’t really WTF. Still, it was fun to read. Mantivore Dreams gets a Black Lagoon out of a possible Craggle Lagoon on the WTF-o-meter. Yes. Yes, I went there.

My Final Verdict

Nothing much more to say here. I wanted this world and its setting to be the same world we saw in Between Mountain and Sea, just the progeny of another ship. I think maybe in my headcanon that will be what this is, but it’s not important. Four stars!


[1] They’re like hicks, only in a science-fiction context. I am not going to apologise for this. You apologise for this.

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