Category Archives: British science fiction

‘Alien Blue’ by DeAnna Knippling Will Go Down Smooth and Easy Like Lite Beer … Er, I Mean Lite Literature


Science fiction, like all genres, has developed a number of sub-genres, and one of them is a humorous, farcical brand represented by books such as the Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams, and the Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon offerings by Spider Robinson. This same sub-genre is popular in sci-fi movies, too; notably flicks such as Men In Black, Mars Attacks, and more obscure films, such as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

It’s science fiction only in the sense that it features weird and exotic intergalactic aliens as props for gags and creating situation comedy, dark comedy or melodrama. Another feature of the genre is that characters confronting the aliens tend to be down-to-earth, small-town folksy types — bartenders, mail men, nurses, cops, farmers – and they all favor swilling a lot of alcohol, which in turn inclines them to be cheerful, witty and bristling with funny quips, puns, lightning-fast repartee and pithy observations.

But there is almost another sub-sub-genre of these humorous brands of science fiction involving bars. The Hitchhiker books start off in a pub, but also features another kind of bar, The Restaurant at the Edge of the Universe. There’s Callahan’s, of course, but we can find any number of other science fiction tales centered around bars, such as Tales from Gavagan’s Bar by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt; the anthology, After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar and quite a few more. (Even Edgar Allan Poe as a bar story with a speculative edge!)

ALIEN BLUE is solidly of this realm, and those readers who enjoy these kind of works will certainly enjoy this novel by DEANNA KNIPPLING.It is competently written, and is at least as clever, and speeds along as quickly as anything by Adams or Robinson.

As for me, I’m not a fan of this brand of science fiction. I know, I know, I’m not with the in crowd on this one. I’m probably the only person I know who did not like the Hitchhiker books, and I especially did not like the Callahan stories by Robinson. I found them tedious in the extreme.

Part of what bugs me is this mythos of happy, cheerful, clever, witty people who are lubricated by alcohol as a persistent theme in literature and film. Think of the bums in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row, or the gang in the bar of the TV show Cheers. Then there’s the booze-soaked Arthur character of film, or how about the delightful sot, Elwood Dowd, and his giant invisible rabbit friend, Harvey? The more they all drink, the more cheerful, witty, clever and delightful they become. But in real life, we know that the more people drink, the more obnoxious, dull, depressive, angry, crude, dumb or even violent they become.

Yet, novelists, playwrights and film producers can’t resist this “delightful drunks” motif, and so we get a steady stream of this kind of thing. (Hey, I’m no teetotaler myself – even my dad was the owner of a Minnesota small-town bar, “Mike’s Tavern.”). But one could argue that it’s just not all that much of an original concept for literature – on the other hand, one might just as fairly say that this is a popular model for a particular sub-genre. It depends on how you look at it.

As for Alien Blue, an unkind reviewer might say the book lacks originality in ways additional to the pervasive delightful drunk syndrome– the author professes herself an ardent fan of Spider Robinson (of Callahan’s Saloon fame) and Kurt Vonnegut. That she names her viewpoint character “Bill Trout” (who, incidentally, is from a small town in Minnesota like me) is certainly an homage to Vonnegut’s character, Kilgore Trout. However, the author should not be overly surprised, then, if other readers suggest her work is just a tad too derivative of the likes of Vonnegut and Robinson – but more so Robinson, in this case.

It’s not that I dislike science fiction humor. It’s just that I like mine bitter and black, like my coffee. Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and Sirens of Titan are two of the funniest books of all time – but, significantly, these works defy genre and are highly original. And Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugal’s Saga are so sublime (and so funny) as to be completely without peer – they’re masterpieces.

I mention these because I think Knippling is an author capable of writing a masterpiece – I’m not kidding, she’s really that good at rustling words. She’s proven she can skillfully write within sub-genres of genre novels (she’s also the author of a ZOMBIE BOOK) – and other works — and, well, she’s clearly a writer to keep an eye on.

Join Ken Korczak in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58

The Obsever Is A Good Enough First Novel, But A Diamond In The Rough


With his first venture into writing an “indie” novel, JONATHAN DAVISON demonstrates that he is a writer with a bright future. I found the majority of THE OBSERVER to be well paced, often compelling, and well-crafted. He ends chapters in a way that really makes the reader want to plunge ahead to the next chapter to find out what happens next.

Yes, certainly, this is a diamond in the rough. I’ll discuss some of those rough edges in a minute, but first, a very brief synopsis:

The story is set in the Ardennes Forest in the winter after the D-Day invasion in which the Allied Forces launched their final offensive against Nazi Germany. The fight was long, bitter and bloody. The story focuses on four British soldiers who become detached from their main unit in the snowy Ardennes. One of their band gets shot in the stomach, and his fellows make a heroic attempt to carry him out of their fox hole and back to where he can get medical attention.

As they trudge through the deep snow, they get lost, and nearly give themselves up for dead from exhaustion and hypothermia – but then they stumble upon an odd cabin in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by one exceedingly strange old man. The soldiers approach the cabin, which looks inviting with a cheery flickering fire — and let’s just say that’s when things get fantastically weird!

There’s much to admire about The Observer: Vivid, believable characters, excellent plotting, and compelling mysteries. The author ingeniously creates confounding situations that make us scratch our head and think (in a good way): “Just what the hell is going on here?” For me, the sign of a truly top-notch piece of science fiction is when I can’t predict what is going to happen next. This book scores well in this regard.

However: As others here have already pointed out, the editing is dicey (to say the least). I appreciate that indie authors cannot afford professional editors, but many of the typos in this book are of the very obvious kind that just about anyone should be able to catch.

But there is a greater deficiency that is more serious. The critical weakness is the ending – at that point when the curtain is pulled aside and we are allowed to have a direct look at why everything that happened to these characters did happen.

In mystery novels, there is often scene at the end where the clever sleuth or detective gathers everyone in a room, explains all the clues and particulars of the case, and then in an astounding crescendo – he names the murderer! All is revealed! Mystery solved!

In a sense, the author takes a similar tact, albeit with a lofty, science fictiony spin of the “Big Reveal” at the end. This tactic might work for some, but it doesn’t work for me. Instead, the author should have “forced” his character to use his own intelligence, his cleverness, and his undaunted, gritty drive to find clues as he overcame obstacles, battled dark forces – and solved the mystery himself – THROUGH HIS ACTIONS!

It’s one of the oldest rules of great writing: Show, don’t tell.

In short: The author should have SHOWED us solution of the mystery through ACTION – rather than sitting us all down in the end for an explanatory lecture. (The main characters literally sit down on a log as they to reveal all to the reader!)

The saving grace of the “Big Reveal” scene is that is has a certain emotional impact because Davison has made us fall in love with his heroic main character, the scrappy Brit, Albert Fox.

Over all, I give this novel high marks because, for the most part, it’s a compelling, entertaining read.

Join Ken Korczak for his adventures in: THE STRANGE UNIVERSE OF DR. 58