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The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning DarkPremise: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a war hero ready to retire. For his last assignment he has been sent to the remote U-Star Coast City, a space station being dismantled for decommission. It rests near the strange star known as Shadow, with eerie purple light that has incalculable effects on those who look at it. The remaining crew aboard the Coast City are less than friendly, and skeptical of the Fleet Medal Cleveland wears, especially once he discovers the mission where he saved an entire planet from being destroyed by spiders has been wiped from existence in the database.

Shadow causes all sorts of electrical malfunctions and interference with communication, but its light also causes the crew to hear and see things that may or may not really be there. When Cleveland picks up radio communications on the banned subspace channels, he discovers a message from far away and long ago. With creeping shadows and malfunctioning electronics, he and the rest of the crew begin to think they are seeing ghosts. Or perhaps it’s just the negative effects from the looming purple star.

Themes: Ida Cleveland does all he can to uphold honor and respect, especially with records of his heroics being wiped from all knowledge. Nobody on board the station believes he actually earned the prestigious Fleet Medal, and because of this he feels he must prove his own valor to the rest of the crew. As a retired captain, the other soldiers don’t pay him the same respect as if he were still an officer.

Friends are hard to come by in the remote space station, especially when Cleveland is new to the crew. He befriends a medic named Izanami, but sees her only occasionally on the large station. The established crew already have their allegiances, and nobody wants to give Cleveland a chance especially with there being no record of him earning his medal. Lacking any true friends, he spends most of his time alone in his cabin listening on his piecemeal radio.

Pros: The Burning Dark is creepy, and it gets progressively creepier. Christopher made some intense characters in The Burning Dark, with the space station and the nearby star gaining personalities of their own. Everything is suspect when it comes to trusting senses or how characters perceive their surroundings, including interactions with other people aboard the Coast City. I like that there are multiple dangers all around for everybody in the enemy spiders, churning shadows, and the ever-present star Shadow and its odd purple light, all within the vacuum of space.

Cons: Without giving a spoiler, I think it was about halfway through the book (before the author gives away one important secret) that I actually figured out one of the main secrets happening on this secluded station. It doesn’t make the story less creepy or intense, but it’s the angle the story later takes that I felt could have been left more ambiguous. Thankfully, I didn’t think it went off the rails at the end, but it left me with the feeling of being set up for another book.

Recommendations: I’ve read a couple other books from Adam Christopher that I’ve really enjoyed, but I’ll say this is probably my favorite of his I’ve read to date. In The Burning Dark, he’s done a thoughtful crossover between science fiction and horror that sits firmly in either genre. The story takes an unexpected turn at the end, but manages to keep the reader on their toes. While The Burning Dark stands on its own as a story, I would gladly read another set in this universe of cyborg insects and subspace ghosts. Read at your own risk. You might find yourself jumping at shadows and hearing voices in radio static.

Adam Christopher’s website
The Burning Dark on Goodreads
Buy The Burning Dark on Amazon

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Horror, Science Fiction

 

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Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Tin StarPremise: Tula Bane is on her way to colonize the planet Beta Granade with the rest of the Children of Earth when she is beaten and left for dead by the group’s leader, Brother Blue, on the Yertina Feray space station. Here she is the only Human, considered a Minor Species in the galaxy. It is on this remote station where Tula makes her life scrounging and trading favors since word of her ship, the Prairie Rose, did not make it to its destination. She must learn the ways of other beings in order to survive.

When news comes that Brother Blue is still alive, she uses all the favors available to her to plot and plan for finding him and exacting her revenge. The station’s security chief, Captain Tournour, is there every step of the way keeping the peace and making sure nothing illegal goes unpunished. It is the unlikeliest of alien friendships that keeps her going daily.

But then a ship carrying three more Humans crashes on the station causing her to rethink her alliances. Through her relationships with these aliens and Humans, Tula learns all about love and friendship, and she has to decide what is really important for love and survival.

Themes: Friendship comes to the forefront, especially in Tula’s dealings with the alien Heckleck. They become best friends as the only person she trusts is the alien with no emotions. Tula’s connection with other Humans makes her question if they should be friends because of their close affinity or because she actually trusts them.

Tula’s experiences with death and loss, with her family continuing to the settlement without her, leave her open to failure. When she learns that the ship didn’t make it to its destination, her hope is crushed by her family’s death. And when she loses more people in her life Tula could very easily fall into despair, but there are others there to support her and lift her up.

When more Humans step into her life, Tula has ample opportunities for love to grow. She even toys with the thoughts of romantic relationships and tests them, with mixed results. But the biggest surprise comes at the most important crossroads of her life when everything is at stake.

Pros: Cecil Castellucci does some things very well in Tin Star, like making you care about the friendship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a bug-like alien. The characters have an interesting interplay in the setting on the space station, leaving me feeling the claustrophobia of being stuck together in a place and not being able to go anywhere. There are some great emotional moments in the book, one right at the beginning, one in the middle, and another at the end. It’s almost like Castellucci spaced them out evenly on purpose.

Cons: Even with the good character development, I felt like from the moment they step onto the page each Human is not to be trusted, which made it difficult to care about any of them. My biggest gripe is the abrupt ending to a book that seemed to rocket by me, and now I have to wait for the second half of the story.

Recommendations: Tin Star has its ups and downs, but there’s a lot packed into this fast-paced book. I would have preferred a 400 page full combined version with the second book so I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the story, but also because of the chopped off feeling at the end. I still think it’s a good commentary on love and loss, especially for people who live a solitary life. Tin Star will make you think about the people around you in a different light, but maybe only because some people are stranger than the aliens in the book.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Tin Star on Goodreads
Buy Tin Star on Amazon
Download Tin Star for your Kindle
I received a copy from the author to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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Trucker Ghost Stories, edited by Annie Wilder

Trucker Ghost Stories: And Other True Tales of Haunted Highways, Weird Encounters, and Legends of the RoadPremise: Late at night on the long haul, a trucker sees many things on the road. With the deep darkness and lights reflecting off windows, combined with a lack of sleep, strange happenings can become reality. The sounds of wind and things banging on the sides of parked truck sleepers can be investigated to be the mind playing tricks or things much more insidious. Who knows what might happen when ghosts, UFOs, and creatures lurk at night? When these haunted highways and menacing creatures come out at night, the trucker is sometimes the only person around to witness them.

Themes: Trucker Ghost Stories is a collection of tales recording actual events (supposedly) as reported by truckers on the road, usually late at night. Is it a lack of sleep and tricks of light or the real thing?

With so many stories there are a number of themes that could be drawn out of them, but the most common for the ghost stories include revenge or redemption of spirits. For the UFO stories, it is curiosity and experimentation. And for monsters, more evil intentions are apparent.

Pros: There was more than one story that I thought was actually pretty spooky, especially if you consider the belief of the trucker writer in its authenticity. If you are on board with the idea that these events might have occurred, you might catch yourself or someone you read this to jumping at the slightest sounds afterwards.

Cons: Keeping in mind that each story is written by a trucker, the writing for many of the stories isn’t very good, and more than a few is downright abysmal. Some of the stories weren’t really all that scary.

Recommendations: Trucker Ghost stories is a fun and quick read of supposed actual events gathered into one collection. While not every story was compelling or believable, and some were just poorly written, many of these tales were interesting. Some were downright creepy. If you are looking for a fun collection to pick and choose stories from to tell around a campfire or an overnight sleepover, you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find some good ones in this book. I think the stories are more fun if you try reading them out loud to others in the dark.

Trucker Ghost Stories on Goodreads
Buy Trucker Ghost Stories on Amazon
Download Trucker Ghost Stories for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Horror, Short Story

 

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A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of MarsPremise: Captain John Carter is a Civil War veteran, and when his friend comes across a band of Indians the friend is killed. John Carter goes right into the middle of the Indian camp to find his friend, then heads into the hills to escape death. In the ensuing chase, John Carter enters a mysterious cave where he falls unconscious and he is transported to Mars.

On the Red Planet, or Barsoom as the locals call it, he encounters a savage green alien race and quickly becomes respected among them. Though he resembles the red men, he has incredible physical abilities that set him apart from all others on the planet. Because of a lower gravity and his muscles attuned to the pull of the Earth, he can leap great distances and has much greater strength than those around him. With these abilities he gains respect, but when he meets Dejah Thoris, princess of the red men of Helium, he immediately falls in love.

For the love of the princess, John Carter is willing to traverse a savage land, face strange creatures, and throw himself into battle against men, both red and green, in order to save her. It takes traveling to a planet millions of miles away for John Carter to find friendship and love, but it very well may cost him his life.

Themes: A Princess of Mars really is a love story. After spending most of his life without love, or any real close relationships at all, John Carter finds his love on another planet. It is for this love that he is willing to do anything and give everything, including his life.

Appearances are not what they seem on Barsoom. One cannot judge someone for being green or red, male or female, or even between creatures of varying size and ferocity. We discover that those coming from different tribes, or even within the same tribe, must be judged as individuals and not by the reputation or past of the entire group or race.

A Princess of Mars is also an adventure about sacrifice and loyalty. John Carter fights for himself and for his goal of protecting the princess and fighting for her love, but he also fights for friendship and the common good of all creatures on the planet. He must discern his allegiances within and between battling factions and the different races on Barsoom.

Pros: There is much swashbuckling adventure and excitement in A Princess of Mars. We also find chivalry that is difficult to find in today’s fiction. A Princess of Mars has an optimistic view of the world and sees the goodness in people. Burroughs’ writing is full of action and the pacing is great, even when it glosses over details at times. With a cliffhanger ending, it still felt complete and just the right length.

Cons: There are a few instances where things just so happen to move the plot along in favor of John Carter. Call it deus ex machina or coincidence, but at these points it seemed almost lazy on the part of Burroughs, though it did help the quickened pacing when used. It may be the time when A Princess of Mars was written, but it is thoroughly sexist. Even the savage green Martian women are considered fairer and weaker. For example, where perhaps a few of the green men could probably have dispatched an entire pack of wild dogs, a dozen females armed with daggers fare much worse.

Recommendations: With its quaint look at interplanetary travel and alien worlds, the ideas in A Princess of Mars are still grandiose and forward-thinking. Burroughs was well ahead of his time when he wrote the Barsoom series, perhaps if not in scientific terms, then in human nature and fantastical storytelling in general. His inspiration for other stories in the genre to follow make A Princess of Mars a groundbreaking work of fantasy and science fiction. This is a must read for fans of the genre.

Disney’s Edgar Rice Burroughs website
A Princess of Mars on Goodreads
Buy A Princess of Mars (Penguin Classics) on Amazon
Buy John Carter of Mars: The Collection (first 5 books in the series)
Download ebook of A Princess of Mars for your Kindle (free!)
Download ebook of A Princess of Mars in multiple formats from Project Gutenberg (free!)

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Classics, Fantasy, Science Fiction

 

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