Category Archives: science fiction

Timelock by R.G. Knighton is Devilishly Clever Fun: Well Written Campy Blood and Gore Horror At Its Best

Review by KEN KORCZAK

I was trying to think of the last time I had as much fun as I did while reading TIMELOCK by R.G. Knighton, and then it hit me: The year was 1987.

I was at the movies with a friend. The film we were seeing was EVIL DEAD II, Sam Raimi’s campy-but-ingenious blood and gore classic. Evil Dead II is outrageously goofy but devilishly clever. It became an instant laugh-and-shock-a-minute classic. I still consider it to be among my personal “best movies of all time.”

Devilishly clever, nutty, bloody, gory, funny and fun would well describe TIMELOCK, which is actually a set of two novels.

The first book involves a group of twenty-something college students attending a second-tier, but upper crust British university. They began to dabble in occult practices and stumble into a way to open a portal into another time and dimension. Trouble ensues when malevolent spirits leap through the portal and attach themselves to the students.

Each student is now “infected” with evil forces from the distant past. A variety of nutty hijinks ensue. What’s worse, one of the evil spirits is that of an extremely powerful witch with the wacky name of “Toomak.” She has the power to bring about he return of the Antichrist — Satan would be unchained resulting in the destruction of everything that is good, decent and holy forever.

R.G. Knighton

While the first novel takes place in the 1980s, the second novel shifts the action to the ancient Mideast at the time of Jesus. In the end, the events of the first novel and the second converge in a climatic ending pitting a fierce battle between the forces of Good and Evil.

What really makes this a first rate novel is the author’s superior ability to create interesting characters — they are ordinary human beings with all the normal strengths and weaknesses of people we find in the real world.

Each character’s motivations are shaped by their circumstances and background — which the author inserts into the narrative with marvelous finesse and ease.

R.G. Knighton is a rare writer — I believe he is a natural talent. He commands a razor-edged wit and a wonderful sense of sardonic irony. His ability to place ordinary people into extraordinary situations is what gives this book a breezy kind of power that doesn’t pretend to be anything but sheer entertainment.

The humor of Timelock is dripping with cynicism. Yes, this is dark humor, but pleasant; it’s like a premium dark chocolate with a tad of bitterness but ultimately sweet.

Timelock gets my highest recommendation and will easily make my Top 10 List of best books I’ve read in 2013.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and has been successfully freelance writing for the past 25 years. He taught writing at the University of North Dakota. Ken in the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Pherick Morton: A Life and Beyond Begins With Great Promise But Quickly Devolves Into a Swamp of Preachy, Pretentious Irrelevancy

Review by KEN KORCZAK

About once a year among the more than 100 books I read per year there is always one that vividly stands out to receive “Ken’s Crash and Burn Award.” This is for books which start out with extreme promise, but then veer disastrously off course, never to recover.

In the case of PHERICK MORTON: A LIFE AND BEYOND, author PETER MESSMORE was cruising toward a rave review through the first third of the book, but then the narrative gets utterly lost, and the reader is confronted with one downright absurdity after another.

The author does a terrific job of creating unique, believable and nuanced characters who are instantly interesting. He embeds them in themes that promise to be rich in possibilities — the conflict of fundamentalist religious beliefs confronting the world of hard rational science devoid of spirit — in this case, super-advanced robotics.

To add even more flavor we have a background clash of a tough-as-nails international union boss striving to organize “the working class” set against the lofty world of corporate and scientific elites.

But then it all devolves into a miasma of soporific detail. The author attempts to leverage what is essentially a biography of a fictional character to drive the narrative, which is no substitute for an actual plot. There is an attempt to keep us interested by killing off a major character every 40 pages, or so, and the author adds a couple of soap-opera-like twists, but it all falls flat.

There is scene after scene that ends up having no bearing on the ultimately vague conclusion the author has in store.

For example, we get niggling and inexplicable diversions wherein the character obsesses about a marketing logo for his robotics company. There is a pointless detailing the kind of domestic cleaning robots he plans to build (you know, like the Roomba, which has already been around for more than 10 years, though this is the year 2030). Then there is the agonizing description of the fancy, pretentious house Pherick is building; the details of this clog the narrative like so much flotsam washed up to lay dead on the page.

Pherick Morton himself is a creepy character in many ways. For example, he is obsessed with genetic purity. There is a scene where he and his wife are consulting with a genetic specialist in their quest to birth a perfect child via a surrogate mother. It’s like something out of a ghoulish eugenics training manual.

It would be kind to describe Pherick as a morally ambiguous character. An unkind reviewer might peg him as a self-absorbed ego maniac who easily rationalizes his use of illicitly-gained wealth — as in when Pherick’s father supplies him with smuggled blood diamonds, some of which Pherick promptly fashions into a necklace to hang at the throat of his beloved wife. He also has one cut to serve as her engagement ring.

Blood diamonds are called so because they fund weapons procurement for brutal war lords in Africa. The results is the violent deaths of countless innocent people, including women and children. They are often obtained via child slave labor — since Pherick is supposed to be a genius, he should know this — he knows how his father obtained the booty — yet he chooses to use these diamonds as his ultimate symbol of love.

He also trades illicit diamonds to pay for his brother’s brain surgery — rather than paying medical bills the way the rest of us do — through hard work, our own resources, or with a legitimate appeal to society. But not Pherick. He rationalizes by promising to give an amount equal to his dirty gains to charity at some later time — you know, after all his own needs and material goals have been taken care of first.

Pherick’s conception of spirituality is fantastically bland.

Even though he receives visitations from no one less that Jesus himself while meditating in a cave in Israel, these visions do little to alter his ambitions to make gobs of money — he buys houses, cars and the sundry material creature comforts the “real Jesus” would have found anathema.

Toward the end of the book, Pherick has earned a half-billion dollars, enabling him to retire in luxurious ease. Thus he is able to focus on his spiritual quest. He endeavors to formulate an enlightened philosophy — but what we are eventually presented with is a warmed over interpretation of Gnosticism which anyone could glean from Wikipedia.

Pherick also establishes what is portrayed as a cutting-edge, new kind of religion free of dogma and hierarchical structure, which has nothing on the Unitarian Universalist model (and many others) that have already been around for centuries.

Most of the action is set in the future about 20 years hence, but the author has no feel for creating a world that feels any different from our own. Except for the occasional appearance of a smartphone, the action here could just as easily take place in the 1950s as the year 2030.

The final scene depicts Pherick in the afterlife, a realm depicted in a way that is amazingly mundane, clumsy and absurd. It’s ridiculous, including a part where Pherick meets his old dead professor. This man reports he has been having sit-down meetings with Yeshua. (While alive, the professor had always maintained “Yeshua” was the true “Jesus.”)

The professor tells Pherick lamely: “(Yeshua) has interacted with professors before — but not many.”

Say what? The great Yeshua is fussy about which guy with tenure and Ph.D he’ll talk to? Hmmmm. Doesn’t seem to be too much of an equal opportunity Savior of All Mankind. Maybe Yeshua favors the rabble from lower society, you know, like undergraduate English majors? I don’t know, but I digress.

There are many other problems with this book as well, not the least of which is the peculiar woody way dialogue is handled — the characters speak to each other like robots — but I think you all get the gist of my view by now.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Sky Hunter by Chris Reher is space opera that breaks no molds but is expertly crafted and well written

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Hey if you are going to read space opera it might as well be really good space opera, and SKY HUNTER is some pretty darned good space opera.

It has all the elements you expect from the genre:

* Space ships, star fighters, alien planets, aliens, space stations, cool gadgets.

* Well-handled actions scenes.

* A crisp writing pace that moves smoothly through an expertly-crafted plot.

* Believable characters you will care about and whom you will cheer on.

* A deftly created background featuring planetary systems flung across the vast reaches of interstellar space.

I also give author CHRIS REHER vast credit for inserting a couple of plot twists I never expected. When you read as much space opera as I have over the past 40 years, that’s not easy to do. Furthermore, some of these turns make this book relevant to issues we are concerned about today. That adds immediacy and relevancy to the narrative.

One of the unexpected departures relates directly to a certain terrible situation which is an ongoing in our U.S. Military today (although the author is Canadian) – but I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

So Sky Hunter gets my top recommendation. I encourage all science fiction fans to jump on the entire series. It’s a well-written, professionally edited yarn more than worth your dime and time.

Now let’s have a discussion. Come on, folks, pull up a chair and let’s talk.

Sky Hunter is terrific space opera, but it breaks no molds. Even though it’s all put together well, the “parts” writer Chris Reher leverages are the standard “pre-packaged, off-the-shelf, one-size-fit-all” modules of science fiction.

What do I mean?

Well, there is almost no cutting-edge invention here. There is not a single prop in this book we haven’t seen before, and many times over. The main character, Nova Whiteside, is almost indistinguishable from, say, Kara Thrace (call-sign Starbuck) of Battlestar Galactica. Both are tough-as-nails female fighter pilots who grew up as army brats and are making a go of it in a testosterone-soaked man’s world.

The starfighting “Kites” that Whiteside flies are indistinguishable from the crafts used by Luke Skywalker or the crew of Battlestar Galactica, or any one of dozens of other books, movies or TV shows.

Chris Reher

There are space stations and “star gates” or interstellar “jump gates” that have been used over and over again in Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate and other venues. On the surface of a dusty desert-like planet folks get around in “skimmers.” (Sounds familiar, right?)

The background features a federation of planets, just like the federation of Star Trek. There are rebels fighting the intergalactic empires that be. The aliens are barely alien at all and when they are, they’re like those you already know. For example, Reher’s “Caspians” are tall, fur-covered people with big feet – again, sound familiar? About the only thing that seems to separate the Centaurians from Earth humans is that they have remarkable blue eyes.

I mean, so what I’m saying here: This is genre space opera and it is really, really couched safely within the field. It doesn’t boldly go where a lot of other science fictions writers have gone before.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with that!

This is the kind of science fiction I cut my teeth on when I was a teenager, and it lead me to a life-long love of the art. Later on the SF acolyte will discover works of amazing innovation and depth – such as a “Gateway” by Frederick Pohl or “Dune” by Frank Herbert or the 4-book-series “Planet of Adventure” by the mighty Jack Vance. (For my money the latter is the best space opera series of all time).

Sky Hunter continues a tradition of Top Gun space adventure that will bring new readers into the joys of the genre.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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“Prophets of the Ghost Ants” by Clark T. Carlton: An absorbing, exciting work of epic fantasy that soars to the highest level of the genre — and just pure fun!

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Readers who dare enter the realm of PROPHETS OF THE GHOST ANTS should be prepared to be carried off, as if by a giant swarm of locusts, to a world of epic fantasy that rivals Lord of the Rings and is on par with the likes of Dune or Watership Down.

First-time novelist CLARK T. CARLTON pulls off an amazing feat. He “out-Gaimans” Neil Gaiman, channels a bit of Jack Vance and pulls it all together with the technical finesse of Ben Bova.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants finds a perfect balance between science fiction and fantasy but should easily cross over as mainstream fiction to enthrall a general audience. It does that with vividly realized characters embroiled in a compelling plot, all immersed in a rich and vibrant world – a beautifully imagined, yet not-so-make-believe version of the insect world.

If the idea of plunging yourself for 400-plus pages into the creepy crawly world of bugs does not appeal to you, I say, take the ride into the hive anyway! It’s a land of agonizing beauty, aching pleasures and bold loves – combined with the most abject dungs, filthy smells and putrid slimes.

Danger and horrid multi-legged death lurks behind every leaf and twig, but joy and triumph await the pure of heart and the brave.

We all know that our real-life dominion of insects is like an alternate universe. The rules “down there” are so bizarre, the behaviors so weird and the guidelines for survival are so arcane that even our species, wielding the most powerful intellects on the planet, are today at best holding a only a stalemate for dominance of the planet.

But now — what if you could magically reduce the size of the humane race to insect scale? The “rule-set” of the survival game would completely change. All this sets up a fantastic premise for a fantasy novel – and in the hands of a gifted writer such as Mr. Carlton, the result is magical.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants also leverages our most central archetypical themes. The viewpoint character, Anand, is a Moses-Messiah-like figure – lowly born into the most abject and despised caste. But he is destined to rise through sheer force of unlimited will (and divine providence?) to become the most pivotal figure of his age.

Can Anand and his growing cadre of followers, captains and lieutenants overcome seemingly impossible odds to carve out a new kind of existence based on joy, hope and equality? Will they be crushed by the grinding cruelty of a deadly environment — or will they succumb to swarms of human foes grown as wicked as bloodthirsty insects?

Even if you can guess the ending you’ll eagerly keep turning pages to the finish – and then, believe me — you’ll be wishing for the quick release of a second book in what promises to be a trilogy. As for me, I’ll be relentlessly sawing my legs like a cricket chirping away for Hollywood to make the movie.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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Astro Turf offers and inside look at the culture of the aerospace industry that’s highly entertaining, offers unique insight, but is also subjective

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Satan worshipers, left-over Nazis, kooky dreamers , communist sympathizers, war mongers and male chauvinist pigs – that’s who the Founding Fathers of the U.S. space program were — or at least that’s the impression you might come away with from a read of ASTRO TURF by daughter-of-a-rocket-engineer M.G. LORD.

But is it true? Sure it is – or at least the case can be made, and I can find little to fault Lord’s take on the brilliant-but-motley crew who were the first key players in early rocketry (although she gives painfully short shrift to father of American rocketry, Robert H. Goddard).

I also can’t disagree that after World War II the U.S. Military gave a free pass to German rocket scientists who almost certainly had committed – or at least knowingly aided and abetted – horrendous war crimes in Nazi Germany.

Add to all of the above: An exclusive, male-dominated, female-scorning, uber-sexist aerospace industry culture. Whether it was a contractor, such as McDonnell Douglas, or government agency, such as NASA or Jet Propulsion Laboratory, men were from Mars and women were from Venus – and the planetary gulf was not to be crossed. If you were a man, you were in a position of power – if you were a woman, you were a secretary, a sex object or a subservient computer-data entry worker.

Through the relentlessly feminist eye of M.G. Lord the penis-shaped rockets which thrust the human race into space were the ultimate phallic symbol of a world ruled by men, hell-bent on conquering new worlds – but mostly the Communist enemy.

Lord comes at her subject not as an objective journalist and social observer but as an insider for whom the development of the aerospace industry was personal – her father was a cog in that testosterone-drenched machine that ground away at conquering cold outer space while turning a frigid, cold shoulder to their wives and children at home.

In a sense, Lord’s nuclear family was a fractal iteration of that culture which would build nuclear bombs and load them onto rockets. The development of missile technology was actually more about the macho posturing of war than advancement of knowledge for the good of all mankind.

M.G. LORD

So this book is as much personal memoir as it is sociological study. For me, this is where Lord opens herself up to some constructive criticism. Lord has clearly never gotten over the pain of what she perceives as her father’s emotional abandonment of her and her mother. Her pain is exacerbated by the fact that her mother suffered greatly from a cruel case of cancer which killed her too early.

Lord eventually became deeply estranged from her father, only bridging the gap when he grew old, finally retired and approached his own death. Part of the rift had to do with her father’s extreme social and political conservatism. Lord matured into an ardent liberal feminist.

All this is well and good, but it necessarily detracts from her status as an objective analyst of what truly shaped the culture of space exploration in America. Lord makes a good case, but it’s highly anecdotal and deeply emotional. Certainly, that the first two-thirds of the twentieth century – across all culture and industries – was a male dominated society is not under dispute. Thus, it’s hardly blowing the lid off the nose cone to reveal that the aerospace industry culture was more of the same.

(Special Note: Feminists have long pointed out, rightfully so, that accusing women of being “emotional” or “hysterically emotional” is a favorite “go-to smear” to denigrate women and dismiss them as unreliable. So my comments might seem like a “here we go again moment” — because here I am — you know, a male — describing part of Lord’s thesis as “emotional.” But no one should give me any of that crapola today – anyone reading Astro Turf will be confronted with its often highly emotional tone; the still moldering resentment Lord holds for her father is more than obvious – she wrote it, she owns it – so don’t kick it back on me).

I am also tempted to say, “Hey M.G. — I’ll trade you your dad for mine any day! My dad drank a quart of Windsor Canadian whiskey every single day (and never missed a drinking day), smoked two packs a day, worked in his grocery store from sun up to sun down, never said a single word to me that I can remember, never played with me, never took me fishing, never took us on a vacation; he lived in the same home with me as a total stranger, and croaked when I was 16. My mother also suffered a slow, cruel death from breast cancer to boot.”

Your dad was a rocket scientist!

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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Machines of Easy Virtue is a throwback to 1940s-style detective novels with a science fiction spin that reads fast and satisfies even faster

Review by KEN KORCZAK

So here is a writer who trims the fat from his prose; it’s all lean. The dialogue is snappy, the sentences crisp, the observations pithy, the action scenes crackle up, explode then dissipate rapidly leaving no aftertaste — just good clean fun.

Well, maybe not so clean when you consider the robot orgies.

When the author dubbed his yarn MACHINES OF EASY VIRTUE he meant really easy. Believe me, these anatomically correct androids come out of the factory generously equipped. The technicians didn’t scrimp on the screwdrivers, if you know what I mean. The robots in the world of JACK PRICE give a whole new meaning to the term “tool” and “package” — their software may be soft, but these machines are hardwired for maximum pleasure.

It’s one thing when a high society millionaire starts getting a little on the side from the maid; but it’s quite another when the maid is a robot. And when the robot maid and robot butler get a hankering for each other and start a mechanical shag-a-thon on the kitchen floor — and then the flesh-and-blood master walks in on it – well, you know, life gets complicated.

Somebody could get killed.

That’s where Red Bourbon, gumshoe, private dick, man for hire, comes in.

JACK PRICE

You see, Bourbon is down on his luck. He’s almost out on his ass. His apartment rent is unpaid so he sleeps in his sleazy inner-city office – but he’s behind on the rent there, too.

That means when a classy dame with sexy long legs straight up to her business section strolls in with a crazy-dangerous job and a pile of cash, you jump on it – and you try to jump her, too, at the first opportunity.

Yeah, there’ll be cash, there’ll be some pleasure along the way. But getting’ up to your neck in the lusty affairs of the rich and powerful get can you clipped – and fast. You never know who your friends are. Your old buddy on the Chicago P.D.’s got your back – except when he doesn’t. The dame who’s payin’ you might be settin’ you up – you just never know.

When you’re Red Bourbon, private eye, you’re on your own. Sometimes the only thing between you and another meal is how fast you can draw your Glock, or kick some thug in the jewels and then knee-up his ugly face.

That’s right. The future has arrived. Cars drive themselves, robots do all the scut work and the Artificial Intelligence ap on your smartphone is your only true friend. Sometimes making a living is more like making a dying — but, hey, you signed up for it.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“This Is Me, Jack Vance!” is a remarkable autobiography by a remarkable writer

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Over the past 30 years I have read just about everything Jack Vance has written – many dozens of books – and, yes, I have re-read most of them multiple times. I know there are five or six of his titles I have read 15 or 20 times each – I’m not kidding – and each read and re-read is always pure unadulterated joy.

Vance is a writer of strange power; he is a unique phenomenon in literature. There was never another writer like him before, and there will never be another like him again. The science fiction writer Robert Silverberg said other writers have occasionally tried to imitate Vance “only to embarrass themselves or find it impossible.”

And yet, while it can’t be said that Vance is an obscure writer, in his long career he never approached the fame and recognition of his fellow genre artists, such as Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein and Asimov. He won every major award in science fiction, including the Hugo and Nebula multiple times – as he also did in another genre, detective novels and murder mysteries. But true fame eluded him – and that was probably okay with him.

Writer Michael Chabon said of Vance: “Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. If The Last Castle or The Dragon Masters had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he’s Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there’s this insurmountable barrier.”

Of Vance’s place in American literary tradition, Chabon said: “It’s not Twain-Hemingway; it’s more Poe’s tradition, a blend of European refinement with brawling, two-fisted frontier spirit.”

The immensely popular Neil Gaiman read his first Vance tale at age 13. He said: “I fell in love with the prose style. It was elegant, intelligent; each word felt like it knew what it was doing. It’s funny but never, ever once nudges you in the ribs.” Gaiman credits Vance with his own desire to become a writer.

One of the reasons Vance never became as revered as a Mark Twain or as popular as a Ray Bradbury is that his style can be (or seem) challenging. Over the years, I’ve heard dozens of my friends say, “I really tried to get into Vance, but I always found myself dropping out of his books after two or three chapters.” On the other hand, Vance certainly has legions of fans, and may be more popular in Europe than the United States.

Vance published this biography, THIS IS ME, JACK VANCE! at about age 95. As of this writing, he is 97. He has been blind for more than 20 years, and the loss of his eyesight eventually forced him to stop writing – even though he completed some of his best works after his eyes failed, including the marvelous Lyoness series and “Night Lamp,” the latter of which is a near masterpiece.

Because of his blindness, Vance was obligated to write his biography by dictation, a process with which he was not familiar or comfortable, and he says so at the beginning.

Norma and Jack Vance

What interesting is that this is a biography of a great writer which contains almost nothing about writing at all. He provides about three pages of commentary about writing near the end of the book, and then he only did so at the insistence of his agent and editors.

The majority of the book is devoted to his passions for life: traveling around the world on a shoestring budget; restaurants serving great food wines, liquors and whiskeys; the world’s oceans and sailing; carpentering his home in Oakland from the ground up. Last but not least, and his most ardent passion of all – jazz.

Vance says that his wife, Norma, was an indispensable part of everything he wrote. Their method was to cloister together in a room. Using a fountain pen and notepad, Jack would churn out 2,000 to 3,000 words per day. Norma would type and edit his drafts. Jack would then pore over the first typed version and make changes. Norma would then retype the manuscript – and they sent it off to publishers – all of whom were eager to print whatever they could get with the name “Jack Vance” on the byline.

Ah – but what rooms they worked in! A cabin in rural Ireland, a cottage in Tahiti, a balcony room by the sea in an Italian hotel, a houseboat parked on Nageen Lake in Kashmir, a campsite tent in Zimbabwe, an Oceanside apartment in Australia, a rented house in Mexico – the travels of Jack and Norma (and later with their young son, John), left me astounded!

So this is a biography quite unlike any other – iconoclastic, completely unconcerned with commercial appeal or popularity, unpretentious, humble, filled with terrific, entertaining anecdotes – the last remarkable work of one of the most remarkable writers of all time.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Free science fiction ebook “And Then The Town Took Off” by Richard Wilson is barely entertaining, thin on plot, but may amuse some readers

Review By KEN KORCZAK

Sometimes when I read a science fiction novel I think about what Kurt Vonnegut said: “Science fiction is the urinal of literature.”

That’s the vibe I got about half-way through AND THEN THE TOWN TOOK OFF by RICHARD WILSON. It was issued as one-side of an Ace Double in 1960. Back then a writer could submit a manuscript that was little more than farcical drivel, get it published, earn a few hundred dollars and gain traction in the writing business.

Richard Wilson did – gain some traction, that is — he later won one of science fiction’s highest honors, The Nebula Award. He also was nominated for the supreme SF honor, the Hugo.

I bet he didn’t get many accolades for this yarn even though it has an intriguing premise: A small town of 3,000 people in Ohio suddenly finds itself uprooted from the earth and levitating high into the earth’s atmosphere.

Yet, this is far from an original idea at the time. James Blish had already published at least two of his “Cities in Flight” novels by the late 1950s, and Wilson seems to have merely commandeered the same idea and played his version for laughs, whereas Blish’s books were hard science fiction – and with a lot of technical scientific speculation to boot.

I’ve already hinted at the major problem with And Then The Town Took Off – there’s a premise, but little in the way of plot. Rather, the novel plays out as a series of zany reactions by the resident of Superior, Ohio, to their extraordinary situation. When it finally comes time to explain how the town was levitated, we don’t even get treated to the thrill of the characters taking action to solve their own mystery. The ‘Big Reveal‘ about why everything is happening is not clever either.

Instead, Wilson resorts to “magical explanations” thinly disguised as elements of science fiction, as in: The aliens did it. They can perform any miracle they want with super advanced science. Wilson and his editors felt no need to make it plausible. Furthermore, the aliens are meddling with earth’s cities for a reason that was already a hackneyed plot device by 1960 – their own planet was destroyed by a nova so they had to going roaming the stars to find a new home.

One positive aspect of the novel is Wilson’s talent at creating vivid, likable characters – something so many writers of today seem to have forgotten. For example, here is how Wilson introduces us to one of two potential love interests he supplies for his main character, Don Cort. He he first encounters her on a passenger train:

“The girl’s hair was a subtle red, but false. When Don had entered the club car he’d seen her hatless head from above and noticed that the hair along the part was dark. Her eyes had been on a book and Don had the opportunity for a brief study of her face. The cheeks were full and untouched by make-up. There were lines at the corners of her mouth which indicated a tendency to arrange her expression into disapproval. The lips were full, like the cheeks, but it was obvious that scarlet lipstick had contrived a mouth a trifle bigger than the one nature had given her.”

That’s pretty good – as is her name – Geneva “Jen” Jarvis.

Since this book is free – and short – I still say it is worth a read, if only for the delightful characters. Also, it gave me that certain happy nostalgic feeling for a simpler time when America was more uniformally prosperous and less complicated — back when a hack writer could sit down at a battered typewriter, clack out a one-draft space opera and sell it to a decent publisher.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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“Progeny” by Patrick C. Greene follows a tried and true formula for a scary monster yarn featuring the legendary Bigfoot, but a tad too much formula for me

Review by KEN KORCZAK

As a person who reads more than 100 books a year, it’s easy for me to quickly spot patterns and formulas after reading just the first chapter or two of a novel. So it swiftly became apparent that PROGENY would deliver its plot in tried and true, but familiar formulaic fashion — and it does so to the end.

There’s nothing wrong with writing a formula or genre novel as long as the rendering is skillfully handled by the author, and PATRICK C. GREENE manages that here.

On the other hand, such a book will necessarily embody a certain blandness. Think of it like going to a fast food restaurant: It’s familiar, you go there because you like it; you know what to expect; the food will be good enough; you’ll get full and happy with the price — but you won’t fool yourself into believing that you just feasted at a fine bistro.

Progeny is like good fast food. It reads much like a made-for-TV movie screenplay for the Science Fiction Channel. All the standard props are here: (a) some unsavory, despicable bad guys, (b) some sweet and nice good guys, and, (c) a monster in the wilderness. I don’t have to tell you what is going to happen, do I? Okay, I will anyway, and don’t worry, there’s no need for a spoiler alert warning because you already know the formula. You’ve seen it a thousand times. It goes this way:

Patrick C. Greene

Some of the bad guys – out of hubris, greed, or both – will be horribly mangled and killed by the monster. The good guys will be in grave danger, but they’ll come out okay after some close scrapes and terrible frights. The bad guys will be at odds with the good guys to bolster the subplot. Speaking of subplots, you know there will be a lovely female character – one of the evil guys will have the hots for her –but she’ll fall in love with the good guy somewhere along the way. This will make the evil guy even madder and creates more tension.

The good guys will emerge from their harrowing encounter with the monster enlightened, amazed, humbled and giddy to be alive. The bad guys? Most of them will be dead. Their manner of dispatch will be painful, bloody and shocking.

So in Progeny the “monster” is Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, if you prefer. But you could switch in just about any creepy beastie — the Creature of the Black Lagoon, a giant ant, a mutant man-mosquito hybrid, chupacabra, a space-alien fiend – and everything would play out more or less the same.

Sometimes you’re in the mood for a popcorn movie, or a decent but basic page-turner you can read on the beach. Well, when you’re in that kind of mood, and you like scary monster stuff (like me) – this book is your choice.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Kindle ebook science fiction short story “4EVAH” strives to be a humorous spin on immortality but comes off as irritating and snarky

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Here’s the thing about a short story: The writer has very few words to create a satisfying piece of fiction. Writing a great short story is one if literature’s most difficult feats. That’s because, ideally, you should masterfully include the four basic elements of literature: Plot, character, setting and theme.

If you fail at any one of the four, the short story is a bust.

The great writers who have proven themselves can break the rules or ignore the “same old” because they have paid their dues and earned some artistic license to create an innovative piece of writing. But if you are an unknown author with little or no reputation, you better be paying attention to plot, character, setting and theme.

This short story, 4EVAH by WRIGHT FORBUCKS, doesn’t get the job done. There no real plot here – only a scenario, or maybe a premise – a drug has been invented that bestows an unlimited lifespan upon the user. The story describes how such a drug might reshape society and the consequences it has for things like population control, social structure and war.

But lots of speculation about the crazy kind of world an immortality drug might create is not really a plot which a believable viewpoint character can work through as the readers cheers him or her along.

That’s what drives a great story – a vivid, sharply-defined character struggling to solve a problem as he/she works though a plot, heading toward a happy or tragic conclusion.

What we get here is a vague, poorly developed character – with a rather snarky and irritating voice– describing his school, telling us about this, telling us about that, calling this person a “moron” and that person “stupid” – which is merely annoying and not at all compelling.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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The Eldridge Conspiracy by Stephen Ames Berry is a pulse-pumping manly man’s science fiction thriller that will please conspiracy buffs, and others

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Hey, it’s time to step into the Man Cave for some sizzling science fiction red meat broiled over flaming coals soaked in testosterone fluid – all guaranteed to keep you turning pages faster than a well-oiled Uzi spewing metallic death into a crew of murderous Russian mercenaries!

Yea, verily, my friends, in these pages:

.357 Combat Magnums will explode heads and splatter brains;

Ice picks will be plunged with morbid glee into skulls;

Throats will be slit slowly, and blood will gush forth;

Samurai swords will hack off arms and heads;

Soldiers will be splattered with attack helicopter missiles, bursting their bellies and disgorging their entrails as they fall howling in agony over fortress walls;

—–> A sweet and petite craft artist will have her neck slowly twisted and snapped by a Super Nazi from the future! <——

A nice mommy (also an artist) will get tossed off a tall building;

A dagger will plunge into a dude’s eyeball …

Admittedly, some people will escape death after merely being punched, slapped, beaten, karate chopped, tortured or kicked in the groin – but have no fear. Those that escape with flesh wounds and bruises will soon be followed by others that have no chance of survival after a hollow-point slug obliterates their cranium like a honeydew melon.

But wait a minute … at this point, I know what you’re thinking of asking me, your reviewer: “Ken, will there be hot sex is this book?”

YES!

In The Eldridge Conspiracy you will be treated to scorching sex scenes that will pulsate your mojo to the Nth degree and leave you drained with literary orgasmic joy, and lusting for more!

So:

Sex – check.

Death – check.

Now let’s go for the triumvirate! FOOD!

I’m here to tell you, friends, that in this novel, the eatin’ is flat-out rightious and proper-good – and I’m talkin’ full course meals with all the fixins accompanied by selections of fine wines, ales, liquors, whiskeys coffees and teas!

You are invited to travel along with our characters as they nosh with unrestrained relish:

* Coq au vin served steaming and savory with garlic, onions and white wine sauce;

* A juicy sirloin complemented by a fine Bordeaux;

* Yummy clam chowder;

* A heavenly dish of chicken linguini with garlic and wine sauce, onion and hint of orange and basil;

* Chicken Marengo;

* Apple pie made with sweet and juicy apples baked with cinnamon sided with vanilla ice cream;

* Shepherd’s pie;

* Rabbit;

* Boiled scrod;

* Blueberry muffins with steaming hot coffee …

On only two occasions, as far as I can tell, is the food substandard for our heroes, such as when Jim and Dee endure a “somber lunch of soup and salad” and another occasion when Kaeko and Temmu glummly gulp down some rather greasy haddock in a run-of-the-mill seaside diner.

That’s life.

The great thing about THE ELDRIDGE CONSPIRACY is that it’s a stunning sensory smorgasbord — pungent and redolent — but never gratuitous. There’s a decent science fiction plot here centering on an icon of conspiracy theorists – The Philadelphia Experiment. This was a supposed attempt by top government scientists in 1943 to render a Navy Destroyer, the USS Eldridge, invisible with some kind of spooky high-tech cloaking device based on quantum mechanics ka-ka.

A lot of fringe thinkers really believe it happened, but whatever. It makes a terrific premise for a sci-fi yarn. Author STEPHEN AMES BERRY takes what is essentially a formulaic genre novel — and by dint of shear literary muscle — makes it fresh, entertaining, thrilling and compelling.

Berry does an amazing job of presenting a raft of characters, every last one of which is vivid, real, likable or loathsome, and keeps all of their time-lines, actions, and interactions seamlessly melded — we never get confused.

At the risking of stooping to prosaic usage: This is a really, really, really good read. If you’re looking for a well-crafted page turner to devour on the beach this summer, look no further. I recommend this one.

Finally – sad to say – I’m afraid I must issue The Eldridge Conspiracy and the author my famous DWI citation. In this case, DWI stands for “Dead Wife Infraction.” The author, Mr. Berry, came razor close to earning a one-star demerit for committing this DWI – but the overall strength of this book overcomes and lets him escape with a 5-star commendation.

Consider:

In recent months I have read these books which have inflicted DWIs upon their readers:

SEASON OF THE HARVEST” by Michael Hicks: Hero is a tough FBI agent with a dead wife.

THE GIFT OF ILLUSION” by Richard Brown: Hero is a tough cop with a dead wife.

A WORLD I NEVER MADE” by James LePore: Hero is a sad doofus with a dead wife. (Note that LePore DOUBLES DOWN!! Not only does the hero have a wife in the freezer, the hot, sexy French detective he falls in love with has a DEAD HUSBAND!! Woooo-hooooo!)

The “CHARLIE PARKER” thrillers by John Connolly: Tough private eye with a dead wife.

And that’s just recently. Think about all the other characters from literature and film that have dead wives. Secret Agent 007, James Bond? Yes, he has a dead wife. The fictionalized version of Scottish warrior William Wallace? Has a dead wife. Mel Gibson’s character in the Lethal Weapon films? Suffering from memory of his dead wife. Bobby Simone of famed TV show NYPD Blue? Tough New York cop with a dead wife. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception. He’s some kind of operative with a dead wife.

I could go on, and way on.

So, Stephen Ames Berry slips by with only a warning DWI citation (this time) by strength of having written an overall superior science fiction thriller.

My advice: Buy this book. It’s great.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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The Old Soul by Joseph Wutrenbaugh Is a Challenging Kindle Single Short Story With a Unique Take On Reincarnation

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This is a skillful piece of short fiction written in an effortless style, even though the author envisions the complex and agonizing journey of a certain biochemical molecule through a process of death to rebirth.

Imagine a short story in which the viewpoint character is a biochemical molecule!

Well, that’s what this author did, and the result for most readers will be a compelling page-turner they’ll gobble up in less than an hour of leisurely reading.

One of the things I like about THE OLD SOUL is that it defies genre. I can’t decide: Is this science fiction, New Age spirituality or perhaps the ancient Vedic concept of reincarnation re-framed with the viewpoint of a modern-day molecular biologist? But that’s a side issue. It doesn’t really matter because this is a work that stands on its own, and for what it is.

While I found this an entertaining, insightful and provocative read, I dare say it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, or I should say, not everyone’s bowl of biochemical soup. Our heroic biological molecule will do battle with myxoviruses, rhinoviruses and icornaviruses -make a thrilling escape down the microbiological food chain – only to face absorption by a marauding entamoeba hystolica – which it cleverly outsmarts by blending unobtrusively into the amoeba’s cytoplasm! And it’s just getting started!

How about that!

A minor mystery for me is the identity of the author, which is listed as Joseph Wurtenbaugh. The copyright is under the name of Frank Dudley Berry, Jr. – and at the end, the author encourages us to check out his (her?) book, “Thursday’s Child” which is published as Josephine Wurtenbaugh.

Again, this is a side issue of little consequence. Whether it’s by Frank, Joseph or Josephine, this is a fine piece of literature.

Ken Korczak is the author of THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

Writing A Best Seller Is Easy When You Shop At The Cliché Store

Review By KEN KORCZAK

You know, this is a fast-paced science fiction yarn that will keep you turning the pages, and you may even enjoy yourself. However, anyone writing an honest review should point out a number of aspects of this book that must be recognized for what they are: a lot of standard cliché characters, cliché subplots, cliché backgrounds, etc.

First let’s talk about the amazingly pervasive phenomenon of “dead wife syndrome” in literature and art today. I recently reviewed on this site “A WORLD I NEVER MADE” by James LePore. Main character: Has a dead wife. I also reviewed here THE GIFT OF ILLUSION by Richard Brown. Main character: Tough cop with a dead wife. Consider all the other dead wife heroes in recent movies and books: Mel Gibson’s character in Lethal Weapon? A tough Vietnam Vet haunted by the memory of his dead wife. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception? A tough investigator haunted by the memory of his dead wife. Bobby Simone in NYPD Blue? A Tough cop haunted by memory of his dead wife. How about good old 007, James Bond? Yep, he’s got a wife in the freezer, too!

The hero of Season of the Harvest? Why, by golly, he’s a tough FBI agent, a former Afghan war vet who has — yes — a dead wife! Wow! He’s also devilishly handsome, square-jawed and a silent loner. I mean, why create a new, unique interesting character when you can just go grab one off the shelf from the Cliché Store?

How about the female lead character in this book? Well, she can be found in Aisle 9 of the Cliché Store next to the baked beans. She’s a brilliant, genius scientist, who happens to be unbelievable gorgeous, totally pure of heart — and just so plain hot, hot, hot!

Don’t believe me? Try: Tara Reid as Aline Cedrac in Alone in the Dark (2005), Robin Riker as Marisa Kendall in Alligator (1980) and Saffron Burrows as Dr. Susan McCallister in Deep Blue Sea (1999). (I could go on at length).

What do they all have in common? That’s right. They’re all the same woman, except some are sexy blondes and some are sexy brunettes! They’re all brilliant single scientists with a hankerin’ for a tough cop with a dead wife!

You can bet your bippy that our super sexy science kitten will have an INSTANT ATTRACTION to the hard-as-nails, grieving ex-Special Ops military tough guy who could never love again … TILL NOW!

As for some of the backdrop, there’s a mega-high-tech underground fortified lab complete with concrete doors and scads of big screen computer equipment — and there’s even a few other major clichés thrown in for good measure.

(SPOILER ALERT)

How about this one: An important character is tragically shot in the chest by a nefarious traitor among the band of plucky heroes fighting to save humanity — only to turn up ALIVE! later because she was conveniently wearing a BULLET PROOF VEST! HA! HA! Didn’t see that coming!

I think in the last 3 or 4 Dean Koontz books I have read, Koontz dragged out the old bullet proof vest thingy 3 or 4 times. Perhaps Hicks and Koontz both have frequent buyer’s cards at the same Cliché Store.

(SPOILER ALERT ENDS)

But, whatever. I know that many people will enjoy this potboiler — and yes, even I will say I found this book a pleasant enough read. Go ahead and plunk down your mad money for a book. I did. I enjoyed it well enough.

Ken Korczak is the facilitator of: THE DR. 58 MATERIAL

Free Kindle, Nook eBook Gems: Science Fiction’s Master Of Wit

Review by KEN KORCZAK

So here is a short story by one of the all-time masters of science fiction, ROBERT SHECKLEY. Warrior Race is about a 15-20 minute read, but the impact of the story will stay with you a lot longer. Don’t be surprised if you’re driving in your car some day, or maybe walking your dog, and suddenly you find yourself thinking about this clever gem, and having yourself a private chuckle.

In brief: The story involves two unlucky space travelers who find themselves “way out there” and running short on fuel. They identify a remote planet where a cache of starship fuel has been squirreled away – it’s an isolated world that has not had other visitors from space for many years.

When our two space men land, they encounter a primitive, but fierce population whose lives revolve around their identities as “warriors.” The problem is, the place where the fuel is kept has long since come to be viewed as a sacred shrine, and the astronauts must find some way to get around, beyond or through tens of thousands of heavily armed natives to get the fuel they need.

At the heart of the story is an extremely clever twist – the highly peculiar fighting tactics of the Warrior Race. I can say no more, or I would spoil it. But take it from me, this is typical Sheckley cleverness at its best! It’s no accident that Sheckley is often called “the Voltaire” of science fiction. His wit is sharp, still fresh today, and very much on display in this little masterpiece of the genre.

Click WARRIOR RACE to get your free Nook or Kindle copy!

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Free Science Fiction eBook Gems: The Status Civilization, Robert Sheckley

EDITOR’S NOTE: Free eBook gems is part of an ongoing series that reviews great “eBooks you should read” and which are free to anyone to download and enjoy anytime, anywhere.

Review By Ken Korczak

Science fiction is often called the “literature of ideas” and this short novel exemplifies that concept. The idea in “The Status Civilization” is to strand an innocent man convicted of murder on a prison planet where all is topsy-turvy. The only rule of law is that all must break the law. If you don’t break the law, you get into trouble. Murder is the highest ideal of the citizen. Drug addiction is mandatory. They have a church on this planet, but it worships “Evil”, and yes, attendance is required.

The planet Omega is like a space-age Australia back when the British used that contintent to dump off their criminals and social malcontents. New arrivals are criminals joining fellow criminals who must now form their own society. But in this case, all have their memories erased before being stranded on Omega. They are given only one bit of self-knowledge: The crime they committed on Earth.

The hero is Will Barrent, convicted of murder — a murder he no longer remembers, of course. The problem is, he has the nagging feeling he is innocent, and seems to only want to be good and do good. But now he must try to fit in with an entire planet consisting of and run by other criminals.

It’s a terrific premise, and in the hands of Robert Sheckley, one of the true masters of science fiction, this short novel becomes a marvelously entertaining read. Expect nonstop action, and little in the way of description or anything that does not move along the plot. For example, Sheckley wastes no time with describing scenary or filling out the details of the environment of an alien planet — it’s just bare bones movement of the protagonist doing this, and doing that, as he works his way through his terrible situation.

In my personal pantheon of favorite science fiction gods, Robert Sheckley is among the top three. The primary reason is this: He is a master of a certain kind of cynical, dry and wry irony that is nothing less than hilarious. It’s Sheckley’s extremely unique STYLE that separates him from the run-of-the-mill sf writer.

What really pushes this seemingly pulp yarn over the top to a solid 5-star book is the brilliant way it ends, revealing an unexpected depth of meaning and message. It’s a sizzling commentary on post-modern society that cuts to the bone. Extraordinary.

DOWNLOAD THIS eBOOK FREE: The Status Civilization

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