My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m not sure I was emotionally prepared to read Ms. Shambrook’s Beneath the Rainbow. I’m used to explosions and car chases and plots involving giant asteroids and killer robots, so when little Freya was hit by a car and died in the opening sequence my heart broke. Make no mistake, Shambrook will take you on a journey in this book and it will all be emotional. You’ll feel, and for a heartless, robotic, cynic like me, that can really be powerful.
Beneath the Rainbow is a beautifully written story of loss, hope, family, sacrifice, and redemption. When seven-year old Freya is killed in a tragic car accident, her family and community is devastated at the senseless loss. We get to see the universe through Freya’s eyes as she passes on and watches the results of her death unfold over the course of a year. Shambrook hits you hard with one of life’s little-talked about truths: death isn’t fair and it doesn’t discriminate. But life goes on as we see in the book, even in the grief of Freya’s parents and friends we recognize the signs of life all around them, and it does not diminish those who were lost. Even in fiction, we recognize that seeing this cycle enhances our memories and brings us together as flawed and fragile human beings.
Beneath the Rainbow is beautiful. Not only in the carefully crafted prose, but the imagery Shambrook evokes is stunning and serene, even in the wake of tragedy. You’ll be right there with Freya in the otherworldly gardens and lush settings. The book also has several cleverly woven subplots involving Freya’s mentor, Jake, her Uncle Pete, and neighbor Old Thomas. All of which I found realistic and heartwarming. To say more would be to spoil the plot, and I’d beg you to read it on your own to find out how these stories evolve.
It’s not “bad” per se, but there is an undeniable religious subtext in Beneath the Rainbow. I could see how that might bother some people right from the get-go. If you’re a staunch atheist, or don’t enjoy engaging the more fragile human emotions, then you won’t appreciate much of what Shambrook has to say. My only other complaint besides making me cry (How could you, Lisa!) is that I think the author slipped unnecessarily into the supernatural realm in several scenes where it would have been just as powerful without.
I highly recommend Beneath the Rainbow to everyone who enjoys emotional novels. It’s inspirational and beautiful, but I know literary fiction can be a hard sell to genre fiction fans. The death of the protagonist could be a hard topic for younger readers, but there’s nothing inappropriate in the novel that would cause parent’s concern among the teen/preteen crowd.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s a little nerve wracking writing a review for one of the living legends of the sci-fi community. Redshirts is an interesting novel, part sci-fi, part parody, part philosophy. On the surface, it’s a somewhat simple novel about the newest ensign about the Universal Union ship Intrepid and his incredibly bad luck with the starship’s away missions. When Andy Dahl and his friends start to put two and two together about the nature of the deadly trips to alien worlds, well… things get a little weird.
Humorous but not hilarious, interesting but not compelling, Redshirts gets an enthusiastic four stars from me. Scalzi is an unquestionably gifted writer, but I feel like the unusual format here cost the book a little punch. If you’re not a patient reader, you’ll definitely miss out on the best parts of the book in the Codas after the main action is over. All I can tell you is that by the time I got to the meat I felt like I’d spent way too much time in the setup. If you’re a writer though…you definitely need to read this book. There’s a wallop of a message in Redshirts for writers who struggle with their characters.
It’s funny. Not Douglas Adams funny, but still really enjoyable. It’s interesting. Not Nietzsche interesting, but still gives you lots to think about. If you’re into books that are self-aware and playfully meta, then this book is for you. The Codas are a brilliant bit of writing, worth the read on their own.
There’s nothing terribly new or inventive in Redshirts. If you’ve seen Galaxy Quest and Stranger than fiction, you know the jokes. Scalzi even acknowledges this in the Codas after the main action is over. My biggest complaint was that 230 pages felt like too much setup for the payout, some of which is probably lost on the non-creative crowd.
I recommend Redshirts to all sci-fi readers, especially writers, and fans of Star Trek who will instantly get all the jokes. There’s some swearing and a few characters who have sex off-screen, but nothing worth keeping away from teenagers.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I can see why many consider this book a staple in the apocalypse genre. Alas, Babylon is a 1959 nuclear-holocaust survival novel and one of the first in the post-apocalyptic genre. It sets the bar incredibly high with great writing and an intense slice of life view of the little town of Fort Repose, both before and after ‘The Day’. For me, the novel captured perfectly the insane window of time when the Americans and Russians REALLY were considering duking it out with H-bombs and just how ridiculous it must have been to consider there was a way to actually win a war with nuclear weapons. How do you rebuild a country where every valuable piece of real-estate has been turned into radioactive ash with a half-life of 5000 years?
Answer: You can’t.
Alas, Babylon follows the story of Randall Bragg, a Korean War veteran and younger brother to a high ranking Air Force Colonel in the Strategic Air Command. His life of leisure and comfort in the Florida sun, chasing women and day drinking are about to end. Abruptly. US-USSR tensions have grown dangerously unstable and the powder keg is about to be set off. When Randy’s older brother sends his wife and two kids out of harm’s way in Omaha and tells Randy to prepare for war, Randy knows the time is short. No sooner than his niece and nephew arrive when the powder keg is lit and the entire world descends into Hell. The book is relatively short but it captures an entire year of post-nuclear devastation living in central Florida and does so in a way that is at the same time fascinating, horrifying, and (if you can believe it) charming.
Everything you’d expect in a modern post-apocalyptic novel is there because this book did it so well the first time; bandits, lawlessness, food shortages, disease outbreaks, radiation poisoning. The setting and action are described with charm and realism. The citizens of Fort Repose, Florida are in for a rough ride after the bombs drop, but you’ll be rooting for them the entire time. Frank’s characters are well fleshed out and sympathetic. Their struggles are real and interesting and people die from exactly the things you’d expect. Frank spares no one their misery in this fictional world and the book is far better for it.
From a reader’s perspective, the plot, story, characters, and pace are all solid. If I had to pick a few nits, it would be in two minor areas. There is a fair bit of overt racism and classic sexism in the book, however its nothing the protagonists engage in and its par for the course for the 1950’s South. The second area of complaint is why I knocked the book from five stars to four. The novel is just too narrow in conflict and scope. For such amazing writing, I wanted more from Frank; harder problems, bigger fights, deeper time line. In short, it was too short.
I highly recommend Alas, Bablyon to anyone into post-apocalyptic novels, history buffs, and cold war enthusiasts. I can easily recommend this book to everyone in the general audience. There’s nothing in the book that would be inappropriate for younger audiences (if you don’t count the nuclear devastation).
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
James Bond, Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, … , Dirk Pitt? You’d have to go pretty far down the list of popular male adventure protagonists to find (or care about) the hero of Cussler’s Atlantis Found, and now I understand why. Before you read the novel, understand that this is an Airport book. By that I mean, Atlantis Found belongs in that class of book that litters airport kiosks, newstands, and Walmart endcaps. It’s only there because it’s on some bestseller list, and only a bestseller because the publisher kills to get it in these lowest common denominator sales points; a brutal syllogism that any struggling author can explain to you if you have the patience. Still, if you’ve got twelve hours to kill on a plane or train, Atlantis Found is not a terrible way to pass the time.
A freak, startling discovery of an ancient artifact and stone carvings sets in motion a chase around the globe to decipher the twin apocalypses that wiped out an ancient sea-faring civilization and threatens to wipe out ours. Enter Dirk Pitt and his buddies at NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency) who come to save not just the day but the beautiful archaeologist in charge of decoding the ancient writings as well. See where this is headed? I did too. The book started off with a surprisingly intriguing premise and cool set/plot pieces (ancient burial tombs, abandoned gold mines, Antarctic ships trapped in ice, titanic ark ships, etc.) but went downhill fast from there. The first 50-100 pages, despite a ridiculous deus ex machina introduction of the main character, are a solid four stars.
Cussler is unarguably a talented adventure writer. He paints some pretty good action scenes in this book. He is also an undisputed expert in all things marine/nautical and the sections of the book involving ocean voyages and dives are incredible in their depth and precision. If you’re into vehicles, this book has plenty of machinery-porn for you; Cussler exhaustively describes every car, boat, plane, sub, and helicopter the characters ever lay eyes on. As good as any single scene is though, you have to move the plot along and that’s where we find…
Oh boy, where do I start? Cliches, stereotypes, ridiculous plot twists, lazy writing, blatant sexism, Nazis (yes, really), this book has them all. I actually enjoy reading mainstream books with crappy plots and typos because it reminds me that the only thing separating the Cussler’s of the world from thousands of more talented writers is advertising dollars. It’s pretty satisfying really to know that a place on a bestseller list means exactly nothing. Ultimately the downfall of the book is that it suffers from a gigantic and unsalvageable plot hole. If the villains had done NOTHING at all from the beginning of the book to the end, they would have gotten away with their dastardly plans. Karl Wolf and the entire villainous clan of genetically engineered, Hitler-sperm family members are comically inept and paper-thin. At no point do you ever feel like anyone other than the bad guys are in actual danger.
Atlantis Found is a book about awesome dudes with awesome jobs having awesome adventures in awesome vehicles saving awesome babes. It’s a B- movie reel in novel form. I can’t realistically recommend this book to anyone. If you really want to read a book written by a man about men doing manly things, try Leonard Elmore instead.
DRUM ROLL, PLEASE.
Before I turn you over to the incomparable Judge and editor-extraordinaire Miranda Kate, I want to express my thanks to everyone who participated and helped spread the word about the contest, as well as my Kickstarter and Miranda’s services. Writers are nothing if not giving of themselves and I’m continually reminded of why I like hanging with you generous, supportive, creative, and brilliantly macabre folks. I’ll be contacting the winners by email later this week to arrange your prizes.
Without further ado, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for:
Judge Miranda Kate speaks!
There were 11 entries for our Zombie Apocalypse Flash Fiction competition, and I didn’t think that was many until I had to judge them!
All entries were so enjoyable, with such a unique twist on the idea; it was hard to decide between them. I narrowed it down to 5, then went up to 6, and then in the end had to be all tough and think about the story line content. Some also stayed with me more than others. So here is the line up. (she says, still twisting and writhing inside, as other aspects of herself argue the virtues of the other tales).
Third Place goes to Beth Avery’s piece ‘At the Museum’
There was a certain perfection to the writing of this short tale that captured me. Much like the art it speaks about in the museum, the words used to describe the setting, combined with the use of first person, brings the reader right there, experiencing it along with the character. Then the movement of the character dancing their way to the museum – another form of art – as they make their way to their final destination. Then the final kicker in the last sentence, when we know what the character is about to do – something unexpected, torturous, much like the situation they are in. Unique tale, unique idea and beautifully written. I loved it.
Second place goes to Michael Sands’ piece ‘Dead End’
Another first person piece drawing the reader in with the opening sentence, bringing intrigue and pulling us in to read further. The setting is given succinctly, while the dialogue pulls us along in short, telling sentences. And then the ultimate horror of leaving your child to fend for themselves when you know you are about to turn into the monster of their nightmares, unable to protect them from that horror, and finishing with the last line explaining the first. Brilliantly executed. Totally moved by this piece.
And the Winner goes to Henry Kulick – ‘The Rules’
This piece captivated me from the first time of reading, opening with the characters emotions and the situation they are in, which is slowly fed to you to keep you reading, and revealing more and more of the setting and situation the further you go. But it is not until the end that you get the full story, and a disturbing one at that, with just a treatable illness causing their expulsion. The closing is heart wrenching with the two brothers, and the emotion stayed with me for some time. A realistic dilemma in a desperate situation, it captured everything I was looking for in a flash story in this setting: developing characters, setting and situation, along with emotion, and complete in its telling. Great writing.