Monday, June 20, 2016

Titanborn

Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno. Originally published by Hydra, an imprint of Random House, June 2016. Approx. 241 pages.

HachiSnax Note: I received an e-ARC of the book from the author in return for a fair and honest review. This is what I plan to offer. My assessment of the book will not be influenced in any way. Thanks for reading!

Almost two years ago I reviewed a book by Rhett Bruno, which was the first installment in an ambitious trilogy. It was called The Circuit: Executor Rising, and it was chock full of great world building concepts and thoroughly fleshed out characters.

So, you can probably understand my excitement at getting a chance to review his newest novel, which promised to be a nice, gritty little slice of bounty hunter sci-fi. Let's start with the blurb:

"In this gritty and innovative science fiction thriller, turmoil on one of Saturn’s moons rattles Earth’s most powerful citizens—and draws one planet-hopping rogue into a fight he never saw coming.


Malcolm Graves lives by two rules: finish the job, and get paid. After thirty years as a Collector, chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm does what he’s told, takes what he’s earned, and leaves the questions to someone else—especially when it comes to the affairs of offworlders.


But his latest mission doesn’t afford him that luxury. After a high-profile bombing on Earth, the men who sign Malcolm’s paychecks are clamoring for answers. Before he can object, the corporation teams him up with a strange new partner who’s more interested in statistics than instinct and ships them both off to Titan, the disputed moon where humans have been living for centuries. Their assignment is to hunt down a group of extremists: Titanborn dissidents who will go to any length to free their home from the tyranny of Earth.


Heading into hostile territory, Malcolm will have to use everything he’s learned to stay alive. But he soon realizes that the situation on the ground is much more complex than he anticipated . . . and much more personal."

Ok, sounds great. Let's take a look at the book itself.

Titanborn takes place in 2334 AD, three centuries after a meteorite obliterated most of the Earth. At the time, survivors had left to colonize Titan, Saturn's largest moon. As the colony evolved, they found success in harvesting the gases surrounding Saturn. Meanwhile, on Earth, humanity rebuilt itself, never achieving the same grandeur it once held.

Now, a large percentage of the human race isn't even Earthborn. The descendants of the pilgrims to Titan are now so changed by their environment as to be almost an entirely different race: taller, lanky, near albino-white; the Titanborn. There are other "offworlders" born on Mars as well. There is a system of population control through which reproduction is legislated, leading to the rise of clan families in which arranged breedings are orchestrated. 

There is a palpable level of tension between these different human factions: the Earthers look down on offworlders, and there are also a lot of illegitimate children who have to hustle through life with no identity to claim as their own. The Titanborn have true cause for frustration: recent events on Earth have driven droves of Earther to the fertile gas supply around Saturn. These immigrants find themselves getting plum jobs over the native Titanborn. Also, the Titanborn are so far removed from the Earth population that they can contract life threatening diseases from even the most mundane Earth germs. This has cultivated enough frustration and animosity that splinter resistance groups have begun to form.

There is one group that finds itself thriving despite the unrest - the corporate mega entities reaping the benefits of the gas harvesting. Foremost among these is Pervenio Corp. To maintain the integrity of their galaxy spanning assets, Pervenio contracts a group of bounty hunting/problem solving experts know an "Collectors". Titanborn is the story of one such Collector, a thirty-year jaded veteran named Malcolm Graves.

While cooling his heels on a forced vacation on Earth following a job botched by shoddy intel, Graves finds himself embroiled in a terrorist bombing on Earth's biggest holidar. Although on the outs with the Pervenio higher-ups, he finds himself on the case of finding the culprits - members of a deadly offworld cell known as the Children of Titan. Their motto: "From ice to ashes." And they are hell-bent on realizing that goal.

As the stakes become higher and the severity of the situation unfolds, Pervenio opts to pair Graves up with a partner. This is a first for the veteran, who has never been saddled with an "official" partner. Moreover, this partner is a young man just pushed out of a secretive program called the "Cogent Initiative". This program optimizes all the applicable skills of gifted children to make them essentially purely efficient collecting machines. This young Cogent, Zhaff, has that frightening efficiency, but he lacks any social development. He has no personal desires, needs no bounty, he just collects.

Heading offworld in pursuit of their quarry, while racing a rival Collector and discovering the true depth of the separatist group, Graves and Zhaff find that every step they take could very well be their last.

So, I'll say right off the bat that I really enjoyed Titanborn. This is the second book in a row that I've read by Bruno which combines rich characterization with thorough world building.

First, the characters. As a lead, there are a lot of familiar physical elements to Malcolm Graves: the pistol packing, trench coat wearing, grizzled, worlds weary veteran. However, Bruno makes him very much his own person. Graves is well-balanced; resourceful but with plenty of flaws. He carries a lot of regrets; especially those surrounding his illegitimate, illegal, estranged daughter Aria. He's pretty tired of the collecting life, but doesn't know anything else. And, even though he knows how inherently odious the mega-corporations are, he willingly turns a blind eye to the bigger picture, so long as the checks clear.

Then, there is Zhaff. The Cogent is an interesting, compelling character, especially given that he is bereft of social skills. But picture a lean faced, tightly coiled killing machine and you get a pretty good idea of him. It is the classic case of seeing if being placed with the right partner will coax some emotive aspect to come to the surface.

The supporting cast are well-done, also. What really stands out for me is how real Bruno made the Titanborn; their physical appearance, and their attitudes. There are a lot of strong thematic elements rolling under the narrative, and a lot of them are tied into the residents of Titan.

Next, comes the world-building. This is what Bruno does that I really enjoy. His concepts for mankind's expansion past Terra, shown in both this book and in the Circuit series, are as exciting as they are logical. In Titanborn, he has conceived of a believable presentation of life and the economy surrounding Saturn's largest moon.

And finally, just a quick note: there is plenty of action here as well, and it is done well. There's a bit of cursing too; just as a warning. Nothing overdone; it plays off of the tone of the narrative.

Now, if there is anything that I have an issue with, it's the first-person perspective. I only mention this because it is obvious that Bruno has a huge amount of world-building detail that he wants to paint the background with, but he also wants to tell the story entirely through Graves' interior monologue. This isn't always the best fit; there is simply too much expository description and location detailing. Especially when you think about it; I would think that a veteran bounty hunter would keep his/her thoughts and sentences as economical as possible. 

See, you can tell that while Bruno is telling the tale, he is visually storyboarding it as well. A better structure for Titanborn would've had descriptive paragraphs interspersed throughout Graves' narration.

But, either way, the whole story gets told. It's just that adding all the detail to Graves' monologue sometimes breaks the flow, especially in the moments that need to move at a breakneck speed.

Still a solid story, though. And, it closes with a great ending. Plus, the Titanborn universe is fertile ground for further stories.

Titanborn is available starting 6/21. Check it out. Thanks again to Rhett C. Bruno and Hydra for furnishing this ebook to me.

Final Score:

8.5/10

Cover Score:

Well, to be honest, the edition I received didn't have the cover yet. But anyway, this is a simple cover, but it contains central elements to the story. It becomes more poignant after reading the book.

Cover Final Score:

6.5/10

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Kickstarter: Evil Is A Matter Of Perspective

There's a new, very interesting looking grimdark anthology over at Kickstarter. This one is titled Evil is a Matter of Perspective, and it is created by Adrian Collins from over at grimdarkmagazine.com. The working theme here is stories told from the antagonist's point of view. Also, this anthology boasts a remarkable lineup of authors, many of whom are tying their stories to their established writing universes. Anyway, I'll just paste the info here; it explains it better than I can. Then, head on over and back this bad boy.

First, the cover art:
And now, the other stuff:

The team at GRIMDARK MAGAZINE want to get fantasy authors into the shoes of their established antagonists and present you with 15+ dark fantasy stories in a beautiful print tome. We've engaged a range of fantasy authors with established worlds including R. Scott Bakker's The Second Apocalypse, Courtney Schafer's Shattered Sigil, Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt, Teresa Frohock's Los Nefilim, Jeff Salyards' Bloodsounder's Arc, and many more.

Wrapped in Tommy Arnold's beautiful cover art, designed by crowd favourite Shawn King, and with a stretch goal to fill it with Jason Deem's interior art, Evil is a Matter of Perspective will be an eye-catching addition to your shelf once you're done seeing the world through evil's eyes.

The author lineup:

  • R. Scott Bakker (The Second Apocalypse)
  • Adrian Tchaikovsky (Shadows of the Apt, The Tiger and the Wolf)
  • Michael R. Fletcher (Manifest Delusions)
  • Shawn Speakman (The Annwn Cycles)
  • Teresa Frohock (Los Nefilim)
  • Kaaron Warren (The Gate Theory, Mistification)
  • Courtney Schafer (The Shattered Sigil)
  • Marc Turner (Chronicles of the Exile)
  • Jeff Salyards (Bloodsounder's Arc)
  • Mazarkis Williams (The Tower & Knife)
  • Deborah A. Wolf (The Dragon's Legacy)
  • Brian Staveley (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne)
  • Alex Marshall (Crimson Empire)
  • Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Song of the Shattered Sands, The Lays of Anuskaya)
  • Matthew Ward (Shadow of the Raven, Coldharbour)
Plus, lots of stretch goals and add-ons to be unlocked and obtained. Again, check it out, and back it up.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/155719766/evil-is-a-matter-of-perspective-an-anthology-of-an?ref=user_menu

[UPDATE]

The Kickstarter is almost funded, and stretch goal #1 is already unlocked (350 backers). That is a Year One bundle from Grimdark Magazine. Check it out!

What are you waiting for? Get backing!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Kaiju Rising - Part 5

Kaiju Rising by various authors. Edited by Tim Marquitz & Nick Sharps. Originally published by Ragnarok Publications, Febraury 2014. Approx. 552 pages.

And now we come to the end. The last five stories in this amazing anthology....

Stormrise by Erin Hoffman (26 pgs):
Although this is technically both a mech and a kaiju story, the real focus of Stormrise is self-aware digital intelligence. Erin Hoffman creates a fierce and fun short story in which a digital intelligence becomes aware, names itself Keto, and decides to demonstrate to the organic, human intelligence that she is more qualified to be their steward. A digital, benevolent overlord if you will.

Caught up in this are Keto's programmer/creator Sandra, who is working the damage control angle for the corporation that helped create Keto, and Airi, a renegade flyer person (actually, her job title isn't really specified), who becomes Keto's ward/captive.

Set in 2154, this story nicely highlights a kind of saturation point of human dependence on technology, to the point where we essentially have a HUD of sorts implanted in us. Hoffman effectively postulates how easily this could be used against us should the machines rise; how simple it would be to read our moves and deploy countermeasures before we take a single step. Hoffman does it so well that you don't even care that there isn't a giant monster or robot stomping about.

The concept is great, the characters are great, the execution is great. Hoffman crams a lot of elements, and realizes them fully, without leaving the story feeling overstuffed. In a perfect world, this story could've been stretched to a 50-60 page novella. Also, the ending leaves you begging for the sequel. I checked the Mech anthology lineup to see if one was listed, but alas, there isn't. Here's hoping we see more of these characters one day.
Score:9/10

Big Dog by Timothy W. Long (27 pgs):
Really nice military mech vs. kaiju actionfest here. This story takes place right after the end of World War II as we know it. Here, the Japanese have allied themselves with alien intelligence, the kaijus, and it is up to a united American/European front (included a beaten Germany) to save the day. The action here takes place in Saipan, as the titular mech, a new weapon in the war against monsters, is getting the acid test, and being tasked with retrieving a kaiju biological sample.

Our protagonist here is Commander Katie Cord, a tough and capable Air Force pilot turned mech commander. Long does a nice job in fleshing her out; giving her a deep rooted animosity towards her former Nazi assistant, Glaus (due in a large part to his being a former tank commander, while Cord's fiance was killed in a tank).

Long's depiction of the kaijus, their appearance, characteristics, and weaponry, is effective, imaginative, and bizarre.

The real winner here is his description of working within the Big Dog. This is a clunky, awkward monstrosity, and its primitive technology coupled with the chaos of battle make piloting it a living hell. Long really conveys that feeling of trying to successfully maneuver an ungodly mechanical construct against unearthly monsters.

So what we have is a pretty standard narrative framework, with a fairly predictable outcome, bolstered by great execution, vivid conceptualization, and blistering action. And I always say that even the most trope-y storyline is still fun when done right. Big Dog proves that.
Score: 8.5/10

The Great Sea Beast by Larry Correia (23 pgs):
Now we move on to a pretty dark redemption story from 12th Century Japan. As a boy, Nasu Munetaka survived an encounter with the titular monster, and that was only the beginning of his misery. The injuries he sustains in the incident cause him to grow up small and weak, causing him to be considered useless in a court that refuses to acknowledge what occurred. Instead, the blame is placed on his father, who is labeled in death as a drunken incompetent. Alone and dishonored, Nasu feels despondent. That is, until he discovers one talent he possesses: a deadly acumen with the bow.

Years later, Nasu has a new sense of worth, as a veteran archer of many feudal conflicts with an impressive kill tally. Working from some newly uncovered intelligence, he leverages his clout into an expedition to discover and kill the creature which ruined his life so many years ago.

Correia tells a great tale here. He's done his historical research into the period, and he paints it with a vivid brush. Our 'hero', Nasu, is a driven man. He is not one for kindness, or consideration. He has been galvanized by a life of hardship to a sort of pinnacle of single-mindedness. This might make him hard to like, but I found his utter realness refreshing.

On top of that, you get a fairly terrifying kaiju, and some great, bloody action. I really liked this story.
Score: 9/10

Animikii vs. Mishipeshu by C.L. Werner (29 pgs):
This is a story I was really looking forward too. Not only is Werner a solid and prolific Black Library scribe, he is also a known kaijuphile (check out his Godzilla vs. Cthulhu fanfic). What he presents here is without a doubt the purest example of a kaiju vs. kaiju brawl in this entire anthology.

Following a nifty little intro that sets the scene, and dispatches with the only real human presence in the story (a sleazy corporate type), Werner unleashes two massive beasts from Ojibwe myth: Animikii, the Thunderbird, and Mishipeshu, the Water-Panther. What ensues is some stomping action followed by an all-out monster battle.

With the kaiju being the focus here, Werner meticulously details the appearance of each. With Mishipeshu, he deflty combines the lizard-like and feline traits to craft a lethal hunter-killer. And with Animikii, the physical traits render him something not unlike veteran kaiju Rodan (although with an electricity based beam weapon instead of the fire Rodan employed in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II). I've always loved Rodan, but there was always something about him that didn't translate well in the movies. You knew he could create devastating wind attacks with his enormous wings, but it always just looked silly to see him standing there flapping them. In the story, Werner portrays the enormity of an attack like that excellently.

The descriptions are vivid, and the special weapons are done well. The action itself plays out with a blow-by-blow analysis. All in all, Animikii vs. Mishipeshu is the epitome of what this anthology is all about.
Score: 9.5/10

The Turn of the Card by James Swallow (37 pgs):
The last story in the anthology is also penned by the last of the Black Library scribes. James Swallow's involvement in Kaiju Rising was one of the stretch goals, and it is based in the Colossal Kaiju Combat universe.

This turns out to be another one of those stories that is paper thin on premise, but solid in execution. In Turn of the Card, we follow a London Police helicopter crew as they try to make sense of the sudden appearance of multiple kaiju in the Queen's stomping grounds. The lead character, a tough girl with a troubled part named Hannah Brook, decides to impulsively take the chopper into the city (which has been earmarked to be leveled in an attempt to stop the monsters) to rescue the uncle who raised her. Said uncle is holed up in the British Museum, and may hold a key to understanding what has allowed these creatures to run amok. Also, there is the persistent, underlying feeling that Hannah has some sort of tether to the goings-on.

All of this is just a set-up to letting these monsters unleash hell. Swallow packs a lot of the CKC kaiju into this story. He does a bang-up job describing them realistically as well; especially seeing as though a lot of them look pretty cartoony in the game. That's what he excels at, though. Swallow also has a true director's eye when it comes to staging the action. He gives us a multitude of perspectives; from shaky phone cam footage, to aerial shots, to on the ground views reminding us just how small man is in the face of these terrors.

The human characters are likable and easy to relate to. The kaijus chosen (I believe there was open voting to pick which ones would appear) are interesting, and Swallow does them service fleshing them out. Here's hoping he one day does a full length CKC tie-in novel.
Score: 8.5/10

And that's it! It's been a pleasure finally finishing this anthology!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kaiju Rising - Part 4

Kaiju Rising by various authors. Edited by Tim Marquitz & Nick Sharps. Originally published by Ragnarok Publications, Febraury 2014. Approx. 552 pages.

Moving along at a nice, speedy clip now. Stories 16-20 today.

Operation Starfish by Peter Rawlik (16 pgs):
With Operation Starfish, Peter Rawlik presents a kaiju story steeped in Lovecraftian influence. Told in the form of a letter penned by a man losing his grip on his sanity, it recounts a government experiment conducted in the 60's to strike back against "invading" monsters (as is commonly done, Rawlik wisely ties kaiju events to real life historical occurrences).

The Lovecraft touch is strong in this tale. Rawlik focuses on the tragic hubris on man's actions; and his monsters, while terrifying, garner that quality not from frightening depictions, but by their inherent "wrongness" and incongruity with our perceived reality. This is all bolstered by a strong writing style that truly puts the reader in the action. One of the few tales that actually frightened me a bit.

If I were to list one complaint with the story, it is that Rawlik does not maintain the level of the narrator's lunacy from start to finish. Instead, the displays of madness is remanded to the bookends of the very beginning and very ending. I'm assuming this was to allow more accessible expository description in the bulk of the narrative. How great would it have been if the entire story had been one manic rant, forcing the reader to parse the actual information from the ramblings. Either way, a very solid, scary tale.
Score: 8.5/10

With Bright Shining Faces by J.C. Koch (18 pgs):
I'll say right off the bat, this one might get my nod for most original story in the anthology. Also, there isn't much that I can elaborate on in the review without getting spoiler-y.

In a small town near the Gulf of Mexico, a schoolteacher watches as a peculiar student (peculiar, yet popular) holds her peers enraptured by a succession of monster doodles. And yet, even the teacher, Mrs. George, has to admit that there is something odd about the pictures when viewed in the periphery. Almost as if they are alive....

Even with a setup like this, I had no idea where this story would actually be going. All I can say is that it is outlandish, audacious, and fun.

With Bright Shining Faces is also bolstered by a great writing style. Koch has a real knack for detailing scenery and rendering real characters. Mrs.George is a full-fledged person, made very real over the course of a few pages; a capable teacher and good-hearted person stuck in a failing marriage.

All in all, weird and wonderful.
Score: 9/10

The Banner of the Bent Cross by Peter Clines (24 pgs):
During World War II, an esteemed group of historians are called in to solve the riddle of a mysterious Nazi ship that had appeared and began cutting swaths through Allied vessels. Once they determine that the ship is an artifact straight out of Greek mythology, they propose an equally fantastic, yet considerably more dangerous, potential solution.

Banner of the Bent Cross has an exciting concept. It's execution has a definite cinematic flair to it. This story reads like a throwback to those high-adventure, richly color-saturated Technicolor movies of the 60's.

While most of the kaiju action occurs off-page, the descriptions of the creatures is fantastic and terrifying.

Where the story suffers, however, is in the characters. None of the characters really escalate above a comfortable trope level (with the exception of the treasure hunter character Carter, aka The Roman). I understand that the players here are truly focused on the mission at hand; but there is nothing here to make them sympathetic.

Lastly, one thing that really would have snagged the reader from the get-go would have been a scene showing the Argo itself in action, letting us see this mythical ship in action against a modern day warship. An ancient craft tearing a mechanical colossus to ribbons. But that's just my opinion.
Score: 7/10

Fall of Babylon by James Maxey (28 pgs):
Even though David Annandale's entry had some biblical overtones to it, it was inevitable that somewhere in this anthology there would be an entry that drew on Revelations. Fall of Babylon is that story. In Fall of Babylon, a young man finds himself embroiled in no less than the Apocalypse as the literal Lamb of God does battle with his sister, a internet star turned pop idol turned manifestation of Babylon.

I have to say; the interpretation and incorporation of Biblical elements from the Book of Revelations that we witness here is amazing. Maxey paints the apocalyptic landscape (a realm shift of the spirit world over Earth, with the action taking place in the Big Apple) is vivid colors and torrential blood rains. And his representation of the Lamb of God as a kaiju is awe-inspiring.

As for characters, this really isn't my cup of tea. Dan, who provides the first person perspective, is set to perennial snark. And it's not just him; this whole story is steeped in snark and sarcasm. When it becomes the general tone, as it does here, there is no chance for immersion, or to generate a bond with the characters. It's kind of like watching a Tarantino movie; everybody talks the same, and soon you realize, it's not different characters at all; it's the author speaking through different mouths. And that detracts from the overall effect.

But, for visuals, an overall superb conceptual framework, and a truly imaginative take on the Biblical elements, you can't beat it.
Score: 8/10

Dead Men's Bones by Josh Reynolds (22 pgs):
The second of entries submitted by Black Library veterans, Dead Men's Bones takes place during one of my favorite periods to read about: World War I. In it, a trio of specialists (Britain's Royal Occultist, his assistant, and an American mystic man/soldier), investigate strange goings-on in an abandoned medieval castle in France. What they find is a horror beyond imagining, made undeniably real.

I've read a few of Reynolds' stories, and I usually find them to be great on visuals and action, with the characterizations relying more on witty dialogue than actual substance. This is the case here, as well. The occultist trio rely far too much on quips, and not all of them hit home (throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks). However, I enjoyed them enough that I would gladly read further adventures featuring them.

As for the monster, this might be my favorite in the book. What we have here is a colossus cobbled together from the dead in a vast German laboratory. The depiction of this beast, who emerges prematurely, with his skin perpetually sloughing off, and emanating a noxious cloud of mustard gas, is no less than terrifying. Reynolds took the old adage "War is Hell" and made its message frighteningly corporeal.

The action here is localized; one can only imagine a story where groups of these creatures roam the trenches of the Western Front, unleashing unholy horror.
Score: 9/10

There you have it. Next entry will wrap up the anthology!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Kaiju Rising - Part 3

Kaiju Rising by various authors. Edited by Tim Marquitz & Nick Sharps. Originally published by Ragnarok Publications, Febraury 2014. Approx. 552 pages.

Moving along in this anthology at a brisker clip, today we look at stories 11-15...

Heartland by Shane Berryhill (23 pgs):
There is something rotten going on in the town of Heartland, located in America's heartland. This much is known from the get-go, as we meet desperate mother Carol Blevins, gun in hand, and husband handcuffed to the fridge. A complete and total egress from Heartland with her kids in tow is on the agenda, but what is the motivating cause?

And, how much credence can be given to a woman with such an extensive history of mental illness and reliance on anti-psychotic medication?

Heartland is a well conceived and executed story, which in the end is delivered in a fairly predictable manner. It's a shame; especially since the idea is that even though there is the promise of a kaiju, the real monster lies within us.

My main problem is that the story is told in way to straightforward a manner. Berryhill could have optimized Carol as the ultimate unreliable narrator: is she a woman with a legitimate concern who has finally "woken up", or is she a drugged-out menace to herself and her children? Some real, completely palpable tension could've been whipped up from that scenario, leaving readers on the edges of their seats. So why not? Is it to avoid portraying the mentally ill in a poor light? Maybe.

Either way; everything is rendered well, the characters are a bit cookie cutter, but a very satisfying payoff.

Side note: I am not an expert on these meds, but from what I know Zoloft is an anti-depressant that doesn't necessarily leave you "jonesing" for a dose. Missing a few days of it will not have a dramatic effect. If Carol was feeling that level of desperation for something to calm herself, she'd probably be looking for anti-anxiety medicine like Xanax.
Score: 7/10

Devil's Cap Brawl by Edward M. Erdelac (26 pgs):
This was a fun one. Devil's Cap Brawl is set in the Dead West universe (also published by Ragnarok, I've read a bit of the first book - Those Poor, Poor, Bastards - and really enjoyed it).

In this story, workers for a railroad baron literally unearth a long-buried miscreant monster as they go about blasting through the titular mountain. Luckily for them, they find that they have a rather unconventional ally on their side. I really don't want to get too much into it, for the sake of avoiding spoilers.

The writing here, as in the other Dead West books, is balls to the wall and full throttle. A lot of the stories in this anthology have curses, but this takes it to a new level, peppered throughout with some quite politically incorrect language. The fact that the protagonists nickname was bestowed upon him for the sheer volume of blasphemous language he uses is one clue. The fact that he is also a brash, back street brawling Irishman in the 1800's in charge of Indians and Chinamen should give you another hint of what kind of language is in store.

Erdelac does a great job in painting the scenery, fleshing out his monster, and choreographing the action. I had a bit of trouble at first with the "good guy", but he made it work. This story is the badass bastard offspring of the frantic coupling of classic Western pulp tales and good old fashioned giant monster stories.
Score: 9.5/10

Shaktarra by Sean Sherman (18 pgs):
Here we have the second story submitted by a Kickstarter backer. At first, I really did not care much for this story at all; but it kind of lingers with you, and you can see the pure heartfelt fun that serves as the underpinnings for the goings-on. That doesn't mean that the short story isn't pretty raw.

There are some truly weird things happening in Vegas. Even by Vegas standards. An EMP has shut down everything, and an ominous green haze hovers across the horizon. Two friends, Craig and Leslie, decide to head into this alien "forest". At the same time, a giant creature heads out of it, and begins to rampage through Vegas.

Ok, I really hate to be critical, but there are a few things that didn't sit right with me, as a reader. The dynamic between the two leads is never clarified or solidified; a notion of what constituted their bond would have helped immensely; be it work, long-term friendship, or relationship/flirtation. Second, there is a little too much narrative convenience going on here. Craig and Leslie are seemingly the only ones heading for this green alien light? And they just so happen to enter the forest at such a close proximity to the home of the elder of the alien race?

Also, the mechanics of the EMP attack are a little fuzzy. Did it render everything within it's range useless permanently? Was there a lingering EMP effect remaining? If so, how could the military move in?

I really don't want to keep nitpicking on small issues, however. Point is, when I finished the story, I really didn't like it. It just wasn't the type of story that appealed to me; and I didn't care for the tie dye and psychedelic monsters. The way the aliens were presented didn't do much for me either.

Then you get to the good stuff. This is another fan piece that is quite clearly made with love. Sherman tries to inject some levity into to proceedings as well. As a kaiju, Shaktarra is done nicely; and that is what really matters. Also, Sherman makes a clever choice in allowing his monster to rampage through Vegas -  it allows the creature a chance to destroy a slew of landmarks without leaving the area.

In the end, Shaktarra does not work as a short story. It works as a proposal for some sort of a visual piece; this might have made a nifty comic, cartoon or TV show. However, as a narrative work, its shortcomings are too glaring and it ultimately dooms it.
Score: 4.5/10

Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea by Patrick M. Tracy and Paul Genesse (32 pgs):
For this little slice of alternate historical fiction, we move to Japan near the end of the Tokugawa Era. We meet a priestess named Shinobu as she confers with General Tokugawa Ichiro on how to repel hordes of gaijin invaders from Britain and the Netherlands. Ichiro knows that Shinobu heads up a triumvirate of priestesses that hold the key to unleashing Japan's most lethal tools of self-defense: ancient dragons, tied the the very elements of the land itself. With these creatures presenting the only tangible defense against the steampunk-inspired onslaught of metal ships, dirigible bombers, and men in mech-suits, Shinobu and Ichiro must decide if these uncontrollable forces of nature are worth unleashing.

So, this story has a lot of good things going for it. It is amazing, conceptually. It also manages to pack a large amount of kaiju into a small story. The action is pretty great, especially as the kaiju clash against the West's steampunk monstrosities.

However, for all of these good points, there is a lack of soul here. The characters and characterization is paper thin. It is as if Tracy and Genesse wrote their Japanese characters as Far East mystical Yodas with a perennial BGM of bamboo flutes.


There is no realness to Shinobu's account. I would think that someone who helped orchestrate the residual carnage would relay their account with a little more hardness, hurt, and shame; not flowery, fortune-cookie prose.

Either way, however, the good far outshines the bad here. I just wish we'd have seen a little more of the invaders up close and personal. There were so many interesting elements introduced for them.
Score: 7/10

The Flight of the Red Monsters by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (9 pgs):
This is another of those very short tales that manages to pack a mean punch. The titular Red Monsters are simple in presentation; little more than giant lobsters from the ocean depths. However, they excel in execution. Stufflebeam turns their tale into a migration/revenge tale; and then creates direct parallels to the story of a young woman affected by the swarm of lobster kaiju. We have excellent first-person POVs for both Maria (the young girl), and one of the Reds. This gives us an opportunity to see how dramatic events sent them both on pilgrimages, and then missions of revenge.

Then, in the end, after a huge mutual realization, we come to a deviously ambiguous ending. Really don't want to give away more in what makes for a wonderful ten minute reading.
Score: 9/10