Planet Grim by Alex Behr

Planet GrimPlanet Grim

by Alex Behr

eARC, 222 pg.
7.13 Books, 2017

I’ve been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now — I just don’t know that I’m up to it. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I’d do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who’s read the stories rather than in the abstract.

In a few sentences — at most a couple of paragraphs — Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations — many of which you’ve never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.

I want to stress the “dark,” — Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There’s not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I’m not suggesting that you’ll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won’t be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It’s hard to slap a genre tag on these — there’s the barest hint of SF (but not really, you’ll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in “Women’s Fiction” (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the “General Fiction” section, but hopefully that doesn’t mean you overlook it.

A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I’d probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed — there’s just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll probably say it again, I”m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There’s not a dud in the batch — there are a couple that I think I didn’t fully appreciate (or even “get”) for one reason or another — but there’s not one that’s not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she’ll convince you of that. I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I’m glad that I got to read it, and I know it’s some of the best writing I’ve come across this year.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.


Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Wait for SignsWait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire

Hardcover, 183 pg.
Viking, 2014

Read: August 28, 2017

We’ve got a collection of twelve stories here — 1 new story and 11 previously published, with a nice introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips. As Johnson describes the collection, “some are mysteries, some have mysterious elements, and others are no mystery at all, just glimpses into Walt’s life.”

That’s pretty much all you need to know — if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find plenty to appreciate. If you’re new to the world of Walt Longmire, I’d try the novels first.

There are a couple of stories that deal with Walt’s ongoing grief over his wife, Martha, one of which I found pretty moving. There’s some decent action, a good deal of Walt being really clever. All the regulars make an appearance (however brief in some cases): Sancho, Lucian, Lonnie Little Bird, Cady, Vic (less of her than you’d expect), and lots of Henry. There’s not a loser in the bunch — yeah, there’s a couple that could be better, but even they were enjoyable. “Messenger” is quite possibly the funniest thing that Johnson has written to date — and that’s saying something. Ridiculous — yet with a little bit of good action.

Perfect for those who need a quick fix of Absaroka County, Wyoming’s Sheriff.

2017 Library Love Challenge


3.5 Stars

The Last Resort by Steph Broadribb

The Last ResortThe Last Resort

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #.5

Kindle Edition, 55 pg.
Orenda Books, 2017

Read: August 22, 2017

So, Steph Broadribb has put out a short story pre-quel to one of my favorite debuts of the year, Deep Down Dead — which is numbered 1, so there’s likely more on the way. The Last Resort is a short story that gives a glance into the early days of Lori’s training to be a bounty hunter, and an early case she worked.

Let me start with the reasons I didn’t want to read this (keep reading, or skip this if you want to get to the positives): I don’t typically like prequels, especially prequels that tread the same ground as the original stories. Deep Down Dead talks about Lori’s training, about the relationship she has with her trainer — and I liked the way it did that. I didn’t want this to take anything away from the way Broadribb opened up the relationship throughout the novel.

Here’s why I’m glad I read it: It. Rocked.

While that’s all I need to say, I should expand a bit: Lori’s a rookie, she makes rookie mistakes, but she’s got the same heart, the same moxie, and (probably more importantly) Broadribb writes with the same panache and apparent sadistic glee in seeing her creation get beat up. And, it doesn’t trample anything from the novel. So forget about that objection/caution.

This is listed everywhere as 55 pages — it’s not. There’s some promotional material/samples of Deep Down Dead and the like. I’m not sure exactly how long it is — but it’s pretty unimportant. You’re not going to put it down once you start and it’ll be too short. Even if it was 55 pages, it’d be too short. Because once you step into Lori Anderson’s world, you don’t want to leave. Fast and furious, this’ll help readers remember why thy fell for Lori — or will convince new readers that they need go get the novel. Either way, it’s a win.


4 1/2 Stars

Besieged by Kevin Hearne


by Kevin Hearne
Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles, #4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.7, 8.1, 8.6

Hardcover, 235 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2017

Read: July 25 – 27, 2017

“Tell me about the old days, Atticus, when you were wee and had to walk both ways uphill in feces because no one had toilets.”

Granuaile’s request for a story around the campfire during her training sets the stage for this collection of stories from The Iron Druid Chronicles, primarily about events that took place prior to the first time we meet Atticus. Thankfully, we don’t get as much fecal matter as she suggests (although, it is there).

We see Atticus in San Francisco during the Gold Rush; in Egypt, annoying that pantheon (and setting the stage for complications in a previously published short story); in London, meeting and influencing a certain Bard of Avon; we also get a bit of post-Tricked action and learn why Atticus doesn’t spend much time in Nebraska. I enjoyed all of these — I don’t know that I got amazing new insights in to any of the characters, it was just nice to see them in low-risk adventures. Time with Atticus and Oberon (and the rest) is almost always time well spent.

Not all of the stories were from Atticus’ perspective. These weren’t as appealing to me, but I did enjoy them. I wasn’t crazy about the story featuring Flidias and Perun — the setting was pretty off-putting for me. Although I did enjoy Perun’s narration and in the end the story won me over. There’s a story from Granuaile’s perspective about enforcing the agreement to rid Poland of vampires. This was the most I’ve liked her since Trapped, which was quite a relief. Of the two stories told from Owen’s perspective, the one set post-Staked worked better for me than the one about his life before he became anyone’s archdruid. I really like watching Owen try to train this group of children while attempting to keep from recreating the mistakes of the past.

I can’t say much about the last story, because it takes place immediately before the series finale, due next year. It whet my appetite for the last book, for sure (not that I needed it) — and reminded me that I might need to keep a supply of Kleenex handy.

Not as good as a novel, but a satisfying collection of tales in this world. A must for fans — casual or die-hard.


4 Stars

Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017

This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.


3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Cyber World: Soundtrack of Humanity’s Tomorrow

Cyber WorldCyber World: Soundtrack of Humanity’s Tomorrow

Hex Publishers, 2016

I enjoy music, I listen to a lot of it — but I’m no expert, so take this for what it is.

Okay, I’m not technically an expert on the other stuff I write about, but I’m closer to one when it comes to writing than I am music. But at least with books I have an idea how to talk about them, I really don’t know what to say about music — “I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!”

There’s a very 80’s-vibe to a lot of this music (a good thing, by and large, in my opinion . The Scandroid songs sound to me like something out of a British synth-pop band. Which may make it less than appealing for some, but it works for me (although some of the lyrics could be more interesting). I did learn what the word “Aphelion” means, though, so there’s that.

The best stuff on the album are the instrumentals — Celldweller’s “Patched in” is great background music — I’ve already been using while writing and reading. Which is not to take anything away from Mega Drive’s two songs — I alternate which of those I like best, but both are getting a lot of play time on my devices.

The three instrumental songs, in particular, do a great job of getting you into the right mood for the kind of stories the book tells — where those with vocals take you back to the era where Cyberpunk was born. So they can also put you in the right frame of mind.

A good companion piece to the anthology, and a fun listen overall. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this album by the publisher, which was going above and beyond. I thank them for this — it was very generous and pretty cool of them.


3 Stars

Cyber World by Jason Heller and Joshua Viola, eds.

There’s a soundtrack to this anthology, and I’ll be posting about that tonight — short version: if you like music that shares the same roots as these stories, you should check it out.

Cyber WorldCyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow

by Jason Heller, Joshua Viola eds.

Kindle Edition, 250 pg.
Hex Publishers, 2016

Read: October 26 – 31, 2016

Heller insists in his Afterword that this is not a collection of Cyberpunk stories, and who am I to doubt him? Although it feels pretty punk to ignore the Editor/The Man. It sure feels like Cyberpunk — but I’m also pretty sure that it doesn’t matter what I call it, as long as I say that it’s good, strong, creative, mind-bending, and occasionally mind-blowing. I can’t summarize this anthology better than Hex Publishers did:

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation.

Cyber World is a collection of this new wave of cyber-inspired tales, that should appeal to a wide audience. There’s part of me that wants to write a paragraph or two on each story — well, most of them — but I don’t have the time for that, and I can’t imagine many of you would read it. So I’ll opt for brevity. As I read through this collection, I noticed that my notes had a theme, I’d consistently remark on three aspects of the stories: 1. The Premise/Cyber-Conceit; 2. The Story/Characters; 3. The Language Used/Way of telling the story. Now, this actually sounds like a pretty decent strategy to approaching these, but I’m not clever enough to do that deliberately, apparently. Almost every story here nailed two, if not three, of these aspects.

There was a story that only scored on one front for me, but I’m not going to mention which one, because I know others will strongly disagree with me — I might even disagree in 6 months — so I’m not going to focus on it. Even those stories that didn’t do much for me, I can absolutely see where others would say that they’re a favorite. Usually, when I read a bunch of short stories I don’t see where people would have much appreciation for some of them (I mean, I know tastes vary, but sometimes you just don’t get why people like stuff). Not here — tough to ask for more than that. The writing is on point — lean, terse, quick-moving — with the occasional appropriate exception. There’s something that made me smile about all but one of the stories. The voices are strong and individual — yet pretty much clearly belong together.

I do want to talk about a few of these — sorry, no one really wants to read about how I write these things, but I think this says something. I wrote that fragment, and then took one more look at my notes, trying to find 3 or 4 stories to focus on and I came up with four in a row and stopped myself before things go out of hand. Again, this speaks to the strength of this collection. I still wasn’t able to restrict myself to 4, though:

  • Mario Acevedo’s “Reactions” is maybe too-brief, but a compelling look at remote warfare drugs and the effects of both of those on the brain/soul. Just enough zag to his pretty obvious zig to make this a keeper.
  • “The Rest Between Two Notes” by Cat Rambo contains this line:

    But this is New York City, and there can be traffic jams or terrorist threats or flash plagues to contend with…

    “flash plagues.” I love that concept. There’s just so much — probably a novel if someone wanted it, in those two words. The rest of the story was pretty weird and disturbing, and though provoking on its own, but those two words (for me) sealed it as a favorite.

  • “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed reflects the international flavor of this book as well as featuring an odd mishmash of spam emails and religious revelation. Something only Ahmed could probably pull off.
  • “Staunch” by Paul Graham Raven pushed just about every stylistic button for me — mix of bio/technical/cyber/genetic fiction, plus political/economic commentary — and a whole bunch of other stuff — while telling a tight story.
  • “Will Take Care of Our Own” by Angie Hodapp is probably the most accessible, closest to mainstream story in this batch. Which doesn’t stop it from being a great story about politics, with some interesting commentary on contemporary issues — just what SF is supposed to be about — with a good fallible protagonist.
  • Minister Faust’s “The Ibex on the Day of Extinction” felt very different from most of these stories, and I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling the whole thing, but I wanted to focus on how good it was.
  • “The Singularity Is in Your Hair” by Matthew Kessel — can I use the word “sweet” about one of these? Probably not, but this tale about VR helping a person with a debilitating disease experience more than many people is very close to it.
  • “A Song Transmuted” by Sarah Pinsker just blew me away several times.
  • “It’s Only Words” by Keith Ferrell — is almost a counter-point to the worlds the rest of these take place in — a dash of Thoreau to rebut the rest.
  • “The Bees of Kiribati” by Warren Hammond was just freaking chilling — a police interrogation to a heinous crime, becomes so much more. I want a book in this world, now. Just without the creepy killer (it can have another creepy killer, I just don’t want anything to do with this one again).

Heller (and I read his book Taft 2012 before starting this blog, so you can’t read all the nice things I thought about it at the time) and Viola did a bang up job with this collection. They might not love the label cyberpunk (but someone neglected to tell those who wrote blurbs, or the promotional material I read), and perhaps it’s not the most accurate — but if these stories aren’t Cyberpunk, they’re the result of evolution from Cyberpunk. Cyber World is a direct descendant of Mirrorshades — a couple of these stories could’ve easily been included in that collection (but some require more current cultural/technological input).

Don’t read too many of these in one sitting, it takes away some of the impact — but you’ll have a hard time stopping once you start. One of the best collection of stories I’ve read in forever.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I thank them for this.


4 Stars