BENEATH A BLACK MOON by Benjamin Hanstein

beneath-a-black-moonWell, in this fantasy, horror, alternate history, (yeah, alternate history is really a genre, not just something Kellyanne Conway made up), steampunk novel,  there is something for everyone.  Even a sex change.   OK, that was inadvertent,  kind of like that Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin movie.

Our heroine, Mab … and here’s where we try to have our cake and eat it too…. is an actress, off, off, off, off, off Broadway, circa pre 1900s.  The gigs are bad, but then, so is she, actress-wise.   She has a real sleaze for a boyfriend, and in an altercation, he cuts her throat, and she finds herself in a dark, muddy, slimy disgusting place.  Turns out it is hell.  Strangely enough, she meets a guy, seems like a decent sort, and they slog together towards a hill, upon which stands a personage directing who goes where.  (No, really,  is Hell where a girl has to go these days to find a fella?)  While awaiting their turn, a sliver, a string width, of light pierces the blackness and begins to descend from above.  It reaches for the guy, but our gal Mab, being a survivor from the Bowery, etc. snags it and is hurled….   well, I don’t know how all this happens, but anyway she wakes up in the body of the guy.  Turns out the people wielding the light were witches trying to get the guy back.  Oops.  Missed.  They need him to find the killer of the daughter of the guy who invented the machine that created the light that got the dead guy back.  Sounds like the House that Jack built.   So our heroine turns into our hero.

Also, someone has been snatching young children and doing horrible things by way of knives.  Really disgusting.  I tended to skip over those parts.  We do get one scene where we see the guy and he sees angles,  and I told you this was a fantasy, so shut up.

So Mab, inside the guy’s revived body, is forced to go off in search of the killer, and meanwhile we have the search for the serial abductor/killer in the person of a sweet detective who Mab might have the hots for but can’t because she is in a man’s body,  but that large male body comes in handy for a lot of other heavy lifting kind of activities, so it all balances out.

There’s a guy who runs the city, seems like a decent sort, well, except for the monsters living beneath the streets which he unleashes, and turns out he is really a terrible person and a witch and can do all kinds of spells, and turn into things.  If you don’t generally care for fantasy, you will hate this book.  On the other hand, it is quite possible you will keep reading page after page after page,  telling yourself that you are going to abandon it…… right up until you get to the last page ….  where, …. spoiler alert, spoiler alert…… Mab does NOT get her own body back, and we are left thinking that maybe there is another book coming.

And the black moon.  There is this ominous dark presence, planetoid in shape which has risen over the city, and brought death, destruction, monsters, and apparently dirigibles with it,  with sea traffic all but eliminated because of the sea monsters, and disease and pestilence.  There is no explanation for this black moon;  it is just there.

As a reviewer on Goodreads, known only as Ralph,  wrote (lawsy, lawsy, I love it when somebody else does all the research work for me):

According to mystics and occultists, the Dark Satellite (not to be confused with the mysterious 13,000-year-old object in a polar orbit) began to recede from our Earth around 1881. Prior to that date, the object, sometimes described as an “astral moon” or a “dark body perceptible only on a psychical level,” exerted a sort of spiritual influence over humanity, causing spiritual turmoil and crises of the soul.the Dark Satellite is more of a physical manifestation, but still with occult influences, one than not only did not leave the Earth, continuing on its long orbit about the Sun, but which came to loom hugely over the Earth toward the middle of the Nineteenth Century. At the rising of the Black Moon, societies and countries collapsed, the wilderness and rural areas became dominated by Witches and those afflicted with “the Mark,” and the largest cities of the now-fallen United States of America became self-sufficient city-states.

I really enjoyed this book.  It requires more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief, and it has a mystical and symbolic underlayment to it, which is probably why I couldn’t stop reading it.   I mean, blood, gore,  witches, monsters, people in bodies not their own… what’s not to like?



IN TIMES LIKE THESE by Nathan Van Coops

times-like-theseHow do you stand on time travel stories?  Me?  Usually one a year is my limit.  But in times like these, you need a good get away book, so I went for In Times Like These.

Fun book!   Five young adults, all friends,  are playing softball one typical summer evening in St. Petersburg,  Florida.  As usual, a storm comes up, and they are sitting it out on the dugout bench when lightning strikes something, a wire goes down, and it would seem they are electrocuted.   But danged if they don’t wake up ….. in 1985.  How could that happen?  Well, it seems that

the Temporal Studies Society suffered an explosion that released the gravitites into the environment around [them] by way of electricity.  That is crucial to the events, because electricity acted in this case as not only the medium in which [they] were exposed to these particles, but also the catalyst for the reaction that ensured.  the unique particles, called gravitites were sent into the environment around the lab by way of the electrical power lines.  When that power line broke free of the pole and hit the bench, it transferred not just the electricity, but the gravitites as well.

Time travel stories have to have some kind of scientific explanation that is slightly incoherent to the normal mind.  So, I would say, so far, we are right on track.  And anyway, I know you want to know more about those little gravitites.

These particles act as disruptors to the way individual cells stay anchored in time.   The cells of your body and in all the things around you have a gravity of sorts that keeps you in sync with the flow of time, stuck in the river with everything else that’s floating with you.  All of it is flowing at the same speed.

Well, so THAT explains it.  Getting out of sync with the flow of time could certainly play havoc with the framastam and your combobulator big time!  What I want to know is if these gravitites have calories.   Because, well, you know,   if you have too many gravitites, do you gain weight?  Because that, too, could explain a lot of things in my life.

I remember the 80s very well.  Big hair.  Leg warmers.  Ugly clothes.  These guys:


Turns out that a serial killer who was on his way to jail in a Sheriff’s van also ended up in this same Florida city on the exact same day!  Talk about time traveling coinkydink!  Whew!  He kills the two sheriff’s guys, leaving a very confused 1985 police force, seeing as how the van has not even been manufactured yet.

I love that the city has a Temporal Studies Society.  And a director who hops around from time to time.  The book uses quotes from his diary and they are fun.   So now the big thing for the five friends is to get back home to 2009,  but it also turns out that there are infinite time streams, little slivers of time streams, kind of like the string theory for time travel, and they do get back, but daggone, they are in the wrong time stream, and meet up with themselves, and find the one friend they left back in 1985 because he wanted to stay with his grandfather who died in his other time stream, but anyway there he is, having arrived in 2009 the hard way, by living it out, and he is now 25 years older, and is married and has kids, while his friends are still their original ages,  But the other friend they left there to keep an eye on friend one got murdered so they go back to try to find the right time stream and get that other friend unmurdered and if you think this precis is confusing, you should read the book!

Time streams branch out, infinitely, so it is a wonder that anything happens on time at all.

Like I said earlier, it really was fun, and if it makes your brain hurt a little bit, that’s all right, because that’s what reading is for….. to stretch your intellectual muscles. And also to take up time while you are sitting on the pot.

Yeah, because I want to do a lot of fast, hot, sweaty exercising with a thong up my b..... never mind.

Yeah, because I want to do a lot of fast, hot, sweaty exercising with a thong up my b….. never mind.



hal-space-jockI like my sci fi sciency and with lots of robots.  I mean, really,  I want robots in my life, not just the kind that assemble car parts and deliver packages.  I like the kind of robots that wait on you, clean your house, and are good at clever repartee.  Kind of like Jeeves with replaceable parts.

In this third in its series, Hal Spacejock, free lance space freighter pilot extraordinaire is running out of options and money.  The only jobs available on  Planet Cathua are shady, illegal — not that that’s a bad thing, mind you — but ones pretty likely to land him in hot water, but now that the local loan shark is after him, using for their muscle a huge unpleasant robot with a penchant for destruction, he is forced to take an iffy job from the biggest robot builder on the planet.  That job would be delivering a sealed shipment to a distant yuk-a-toid planet where there is an operation that refurbs parts and reships them.  Along for the ride is an elderly robot, a bit rusty around the seams, but who (which?) still has all his brain parts functioning very well. 

Unfortunately, the place for repairs on that planet turns out to be a chop shop, and poor Clunk, the robot, is supposed to be chopped up, not given a class on modern technology.  Well, Hal can’t let this happen, especially when his return load is all refabbed parts, not the new ones the robot company claims to use.

So there is lots of thriller stuff, lots of funny conversation, and frankly my dears, Clunk is way smarter than his dented parts would suggest.

A totally fun read, a quasi thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so neither should we.  But be prepared, I am neck deep in a Peter Watts sci fi series, and that DOES take itself VERY seriously.

OK, dear ones, see you on the flip side.


orion-protocolSci fi, going where no man or woman has gone before.  I sure do love a good hard sci fi story.  They tend to be a combo of barely disguised current events, scarily accurate prognostications, and a whole lotta imagination.

This one is barely disguised current events, scarily accurate prognostications, and a whole lotta imagination.   I found it to be fascinating because it is about government coverups, (and Buddha knows we sure do have enough of those), aggression disguised as surveillance, and a clueless President of the US trying to become less clueless.

The basic premise is that the government is actually run by a cadre of shadow figures, and has been for decades, which nobody knows about, with Congress thinking they are pulling the strings, and each successive President thinking he is in charge.

1958: The Eisenhower-commissioned Brookings Report recommends that any future discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence be kept secret from the public.

1968: Congress grants NASA the power to indefinitely”quarantine” anyone exposed to alien life or artifacts.

That stuff is true;  did you know that?

1993: Just 48 hours from the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Observer probe inexplicably disappears and is declared “lost.”

That is not true, it is part of the fiction so don’t get all hyped up over it.

A high profile science journalist is sent anonymously a packet of photos of non-natural artifacts on Mars.  I want to say man-made, but who knows.  Is ‘alien-made’ a phrase?   The journalist takes it to a computer whizz who confirms the photos are real and not tampered with, and of the location they purport to be.  You know — stuff like that face and the pyramid we see on posts from IDontMakeThisStuffUp.Com.  I personally am keeping my fingers crossed that those artifacts are true, and not just Light and Shadows.   I so want there to be aliens.

Two NASA astronauts, one retired from NASA and teaching, and one still in the program, get involved.  You know why?  Because back when they were moon walking, they saw stuff.  Stuff the government hushed up.  But it is all now coming back to bite them in the butt.

Great storyline. I am not telling you any more of the plot because if you don’t read sci fi, you don’t care, and if you do read sci fi, I don’t want to ruin it for you.  Interesting twists, some thriller aspects, heart pounding finish.  OK, maybe not heart pounding.  Very little in fiction actually makes my heart pound.  The sound of the dinner bell?  Now that makes my heart pound.


CEMETERY PLANET by J. Joseph Wright

cemetery planetYou want a little fun in your sci fi? Of course you do. Who doesn’t. And here we have a whole planet full of dead bodies. What could be more fun than that?

Harvey Crane is the caretaker on a planet full of graves and mausoleums. In fact

he was the lone inhabitant in the food court structure built to hold at least a thousand people, with a visitor center, souvenir and snack shops, several mausoleum levels, a nondenominational temple, a space elevator, and vacuum tube train lines circumnavigating the planet.

Here’s the deal. With billions on Earth dying, where oh where can we put them? Stack them up like firewood? No. Of course not. Now if it were me running the show, I would have required cremation for all, damn the pollution from the burning, but no, this bunch decides that shouldering the expense of building a high tech funeral parlor on some far away planet is the way to go.

Mourners by the hundreds used to flock to the planet to pay their respects. Heck, they had holographic displays wherein the deceased would appear at the grave with a message for the loved ones. How cool is that? But almost no one came anymore. Not for 50 years or so. So DeepSix, the holding company, now had only one caretaker a tour, each tour lasting a year.

Harvey Crane was bored. He was not bothered by the isolation or being the only one there, well the only live one there. He played video games and generally was able to amuse himself pretty well. But he got this idea to upgrade an AI with all kinds of features so it was like having a companion. Who seemed to be getting smarter and smarter, and more and more independent.

One evening, Harvey gets a signal from the security system that something is amiss in a far section. So he gets on the train and after quite some time, arrives at the trouble spot, to see a hologram playing. What the deuce? You have to push a button to start them up. And there is no sentient life on this planet, except him. He asks the system computer to scan for sentient life. Nada. Scan for any movement. Nada again. Hmmm, thought Harvey. In all the time he has been on duty, there has never been an incident. OK, maybe the mechanism is on the fritz, seeing how this place is centuries old. He, being a mechanic, checks it all over, can’t find anything wrong, shrugs his shoulders and goes back to his station and the chess game with his AI.

A few days later, another trouble signal shows. This time to a really far away section, one to which Harvey has to take the planet train. Again, no sign of any problems, except for the hologram playing in which the deceased is ranting about how his heirs are going to receive NOTHING, NOTHING. hahaha.

I bet you are dying to know what is going on, right? (See what I did there?) Well, I am not going to tell you, but rest in peace knowing (I did it again. I can’t help myself) that it is a doozy. One thing I like about sci if and speculative fiction are the creative and unusual ideas, and a planet that serves solely as a burial ground is certainly interesting, you must admit.


How to live safelyKind of an odd, quirky novel.  Science fiction, but not quite.  A tale of a relationship between father and son, well, OK, yeah, that.  A musing upon life, liberty, free will, memories, and time. Definitely that.

I snagged this book mainly on the basis of the title, without delving much into the plot, because I thought, hey, sci fi, how to live in a sci fi universe.  But although there are plenty of sci fi elements — we have time travel, space, and lots of nifty gadgetry,  a closer reading of the title reveals it to be a science fictional universe.  I confess to having a bit of a problem understanding just what was going on.

The basic story is this:  the father of a young boy — our protagonist — is an engineer, and is working on inventing a time travel machine.  Then spends the rest of his life trying to get it to work.  He finally does, and one evening, he just disappears, never to be seen again.

The son then spends his life trying to find his father.  A large corporation has bought up the rights to the machine and has gotten it to work.   Our boy gets a job as a time repairman.  He travels in a TM-31, and tells us that

transport through some amount of space-time  is a physical process.  Even if it has metaphysical and fictional implications, it is still a physical process.  Time travel takes time.

It is well established within the field of diegetic engineering that a science fictional space must have an energy density at least equal to the unit average level of a Dirac box, multiplied by pi.

He travels around, fixing rents in the space time.  People experience these as double vision, hallucinations, etc., and are terribly grateful when he shows up.

Well, turns out the universe where he lives is some kind of alternate universe, one of many.  It is a grammatical universe and that

Weinberg and Takayama each working independently and without any knowledge of the other, set forth the proposition that a universe, in order to sustain the conditions necessary for the development of narrational sustainability, can be no bigger than a certain maximum size.

Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

Well, he gets himself involved in a infinite loop where he sees himself getting out of his TM-31 and himself shoots him, and he rushes past himself to get into the ship, and then becomes involved in this loop thing and decides to write a book that has already been written about what happens to him in the future and that is already happened and the book is already written and…..

He does tell us that when engaging in time travel, you can’t get to the past and change any of it. Then there is a lot of mulling about time, how it is a massive flow, a self-healing substance,  that nostalgia is just an underlying cosmological explanation for Weak but detectable interaction between two neighboring universes that are otherwise not causally connected.  It manifests itself in humans as a feeling of missing a place one has never been, and can never know.

He has a dog which is not real.  In fact, it does not actually exist, except it does.  It travels with him on his repair jobs.

Ed [the dog] sighs.  Dog sighs are some form of distilled truth.  What does he know?  What do dogs know?  Ed sighs like he knows the truth about me and loved me anyway.

Ed wants to see the meson-boson show, so we cross the street and stand outside for a while, watching a replay of the Big Bang.  At the top of the hour, they open a box and every color in the universe comes pouring out, refracted and reflected, bouncing around inside the window display.

If you have come for the plot, it is kind of fragile and disappears from time to time.  But if you have come for the philosophical ruminations, you have come to the right place.

We are all time machines.  We are all perfectly engineered time machines, technologically equipped to allow the inside user, the traveler riding inside each of us, to experience time travel, and loss, and understanding.  We are universal time machines manufactured to the most exacting specifications possible.  Every single one of us.

I think I will leave it at this point.  It is the kind of book you will either like, or hate.  Or something in between.  I am on the ‘like’ side of the equation.  I have gotten comfortable over the decades with not fully understanding things.

EMBASSYTOWN by China Miéville

embassytownA science fiction book published in 2011, and guess what…. it is not already outdated!   Sci fi writers always face the danger that Real Life will catch up with their imaginations before the book is even distributed.

This was a great story, about….. it was about….. Um, about …..

If there ever is a book that will stop me from writing up the books I read on the blog, it would be this one.  It is about another planet,  whose original life forms on it when the humans arrived to colonize it, are the Ariekei, beings that look somewhat like very large insects, and who speak a language that was not understandable or translatable for many many years, until finally it was discovered that they only spoke in reality…. not in similes or metaphors or the past or the future.  They could not lie because they had no concept of what not speaking the truth was.

The humans inhabiting the planet built a city outside the main city of the Ariekei, in which they used their technology to produce breathable air.  They created altered pairs of humans called Ambassadors who are able to speak with the Ariekei.

The protagonist is a young woman who becomes one who travels all over the universe, and eventually comes back to her home planet and gets involved in a war between the Ariekei and the humans, with the humans trying to teach the Ariekei how to think differently in order to speak the humans’ language, Anglo-Ubiq.    It is really about taking over an established and functioning culture that humans consider less than their own, and rejoicing when they succeed in changing the fundamental tenets, the core of that society.

Wonderful world building, rather a complicated story, lots of interesting characters.  The book is much more involved that I want to get into.  Have you ever had that happen to you?  You read a great book, and then when you are finished, you don’t want to talk about it.  You want to keep the experience all to yourself.

This was one of those.  Or maybe it is just me getting lazy.  Yeah.  Could be that.