Anthology Review: American Carnage

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American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia
Editors: Paul Brian McCoy and Jennifer King
Publisher: PDI Press
Format: Kindle (paperback available)
Full disclosure: I’m friends with one of the editors who worked on this project, and I learned about the book through her. I received the book as a gift from my friend (not the publisher), but opinions are my own. I am not being compensated for this review.
Note: the underlying theme of this book has the potential to become controversial. Please be respectful when commenting on the review and any future interviews with the authors and/or editors.
Another note: because of the topic, this book is quite likely going to be a love it or hate it book. Be forewarned!
Warning: possible spoilers. I try not to include spoilers, but I’m going to put this here anyway.
Okay, now to the actual review. (Ha!)
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia is a short story anthology from indie publisher PDI Press. (PDI Press is the publishing arm of website Psycho Drive-In.) My understanding of the anthology is that it was developed with a sort of punk rock dystopian theme, centered around an apocalypse brought about by the current US administration. (Let’s face it, anything apocalyptic is bound to catch my attention — the musical part just made it more interesting.)
Five stories are included in the collection; there are a couple of longer stories, but the other three are fairly short. It’s a super fun read, though; it’s been an interesting “what if?” exercise. (Okay, so some of it is less likely than others, but I guess anything’s possible. Or something.)
The five included stories are: What Kind of Monster Are You?; The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo; None But the Brave; Where Eagles Dare; and Big Takeover. The stories are all quite different in tone; some are more serious than others. The writing in all of the stories was solid, and they all follow the same basic theme. It was really interesting to see how each writer interpreted the anthology’s theme and premise — I can honestly say that no two stories are anywhere near alike.
The opening story, What Kind of Monster Are You?, is the longest, but it’s also the most fun (and, um, the goriest). For me, this one captured the musical part of the anthology’s theme the most — it also has its own soundtrack since the main character listens to a quite a bit of music throughout the story. It’s got an alien invasion of evil space octopi who regrow tentacles like a president-faced Hydra. It was very…splatter-y. And absolutely bananapants bonkers, but in a totally fun way. The best part of this story is the dialogue: the writer used actual presidential quotes for the Trump-alien’s dialogue, and it is hysterical in the context of the story. It was also a brilliant idea to use actual, existing quotes. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
My favorite story, though, is the much “quieter” When the Earth Turned Day-Glo. This story is set in the near future, after the current administration has ended. Humans have colonized the moon (well, sort of), and have found a way to profit from the sun. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this story more than the others — maybe because it has a touch of realism to it? (Call me cynical, but I could totally see someone profiting from the sun by making people pay for sunlight.) Whatever it is, the story’s quiet thoughtfulness won me over completely. It’s the second story in the book and follows the alien octopi invasion story, so it had a really tough act to follow because that first story is just so much fun (in my opinion, anyway). But I really liked it.
The other two middle stories, None But the Brave and Where Eagles Dare, were well-written, but I didn’t quite connect with them as much. Regardless, they were still good stories and they presented two completely differing views of a Trumpian dystopia. In None But the Brave, special agents are able to extract thoughts from the dead (but only those who commit crimes against the state) and see their last moments. In Where Eagles Dare, a man pretends to be the sheriff and interrogates another man who dislikes the president — until the real sheriff shows up. (I can actually see these stories becoming reality in some way, which is alarming. But… it may just mean that I’m more cynical than I thought. Heh.)
The last story, Big Takeover, seems to be part of a larger universe, so I was a bit lost in terms of the worldbuilding. The world itself was interesting, though, and to me it was a little bit Matrix and a little bit Inception. (There was also a demon. Demons are fun in stories. Um, but not in real-life.) I might have to go track down some of the author’s other work, because the story’s universe is intriguing.
Overall, I loved this. It’s a collection of super fun stories written by a group of good writers. And I actually enjoyed each story (which isn’t always the case for anthologies). Yes, it may be a bit controversial because of the anthology’s theme, but it was really fun to read. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian anthologies (especially ones rooted in punk rock), but with the caveat that they should probably also be mindful of the underlying theme.
Keep an eye out for interviews with the anthology’s contributors over the next few days!

Book thoughts: The Sunshine Series by Nikki Rae


The Sunshine Series
Author: Nikki Rae
Publisher: Nikki Rae
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Vampire
This is a bit of an unorthodox review from me, since I’m reviewing all the three books of a trilogy together. I did this to make it easier though, so I could post the review all at once. (And because I didn’t want to make the author wait even longer, since she’s waited a hell of a long time already. My sincere apologies, Nikki.)
Be warned! This review might be a bit longer than usual.
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Book review: Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel

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Author: Carrie Patel
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date: July 2, 2015 (UK), July 7 (North America)
Note: This book was provided by the publisher.
Blurb:

In the fantastical, gaslit underground city of Recoletta, oligarchs from foreign states and revolutionaries from the farming communes vie for power in the wake of the city’s coup. The dark, forbidden knowledge of how the city came to be founded has been released into the world for all to read, and now someone must pay.
Inspector Liesl Malone is on her toes, trying to keep the peace, and Arnault’s spy ring is more active than ever. Has the city’s increased access to knowledge put the citizens in even more danger? Allegiances change, long-held beliefs are adjusted, and things are about to get messy.

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Review: Hawken: Genesis (Archaia)

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Hawken: Genesis (Archaia)answers the question “What’s my motivation?” for payers of Hawken the game.
Hawken by Adhesive Games and Meteor Entertainment is part Total Recall, in that it’s set in a ruined dystopian planet; part my desperate hopes for what Pacific Rim will be, a ridiculous mecha battle royal; and part Gundam where everyone is fighting for or against a team but no one is really right.
But then Hawken: Genesis adds in a heaping helping of Top Gun.
It sounds like chaos on the surface but it’s actually a brilliant premise.
Everyone fled Earth for a brighter future on Illal but their hopes overwhelmed the new planet, destroying it faster than they destroyed Earth. Unfortunately for the poor planet, devastation isn’t enough and they’ve found one more resource to pry from the corps of their new home.
Already in the midst of an inter-corporation world war the citizens now have reason to stay and fight too. Not for honor or freedom but for their own slice of the pie. That is why they came after all.
From the jump, “the Hawken” is mentioned in a laundry list of terrible things that shouldn’t have happened, terrible things that ruined a once optimistic planet. I’m not clear what it is though… But I am curious.
I’m always drawn to a good premise, a well thought out backstory make most things that much more wonderful for me. And when I read the Hawken: Genesis issues put out by Archaia Black Label for the franchise, I was blown away.
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Blood Zero Sky by J. Gabriel Gates

A prophetic glimpse into a chilling future dominated by two massive corporations, where systematic greed exploits the credit value of every citizen and endless productivity is the costly price for the lie called freedom. The only hope? A revolution is brewing in the America Division. . .
Unprofitables are banished to work camps to pay off their credit. Other tie-men and women look on apathetically. Fair is fair. Everyone knows you shouldn’t use more credit than you are worth to the Company. They turn their attention to the next repackaged but highly coveted N-Corp product on the market, creatively advertised on the imager screens that adorn virtually every available flat surface. All the while, their mandatory cross-implants and wrist-worn “ICs” keep them focused on the endless cycle of work and consumption to which they are enslaved.
May Fields—the CEO’s daughter—would like to believe she is above all that. Head of N-Corp’s marketing team, the young woman who has almost everything anyone could want spends her days dreaming up ingenious ways to make workers buy more of what they already have and don’t need. Even before May discovers that the Company is headed for its first loss in thirty years, she is feeling the stirrings of dissatisfaction with the system that has given her everything she’s ever wanted . . . except the freedom to be herself.
When she is kidnapped by a member of the Protectorate—a secret order dating back to the American Revolution—May is suddenly faced with the frightening truth of what the Company’s greed has done to our most basic human rights. Will she embrace who she is and join the battle to restore America’s democratic freedom, or put her blinders back on and return to her safe and passionless life?
Blood Zero Sky [1. provided free by HCI Books ] Is not an easy read, but it’s a book that should be read.
A powerful criticism of commercialism and coroporation interference in government, Blood Zero Sky  is also a very good read. It drags the reader on a roller-coaster ride, using prose and description effectively to truly bring home the unnatural state of the future.
It’s not perfect. I found it’s focus on America somewhat off-putting and alientating as a Brit – many of the concepts presented within Blood Zero Sky are uniquely American, and many of the things that were supposed to fill me with fear or horrified recognition meant nothing to me – and that lack of aplicability weakens to book.  At times, Blood Zero Sky slips into the didactic and the lecturing, which can be irritating when it gets in the way of the story. Also, I am a bit sick of rape being used as backstory or a plot point in dystopian or apocalyptic fiction, and rape is used that way here. It’s a small point of the narrative, however, and my distaste for it noted, I will leave the analysis of it to other book bloggers who may wish to tackle it, such as Requires Only That You Hate. Even with these flaws, I found the portrayal of a corporation-run future in Blood Zero Sky frightening and believable.
There is every chance that Blood Zero Sky will become a very controversial book. I can see many school districts wanting to ban it, as books like 1984 have been banned before it, although it’s focus on Christian faith may keep it in the good books of some. This is exactly why you should read it now.
Long story short, you should read Blood Zero Sky. Despite it’s flaws, it’s not only a well-written and readable book, it’s important. It deserves to sit up there with other great works of dystopian fiction.
[rating:5/5]

Etiquette for an Apocalypse by Anne Mendel

It’s the 2020 Apocalypse and Sophie Cohen, former social worker turned neighborly drug dealer, must keep her family alive amid grueling and sometimes strangely amusing end of the world issues: starvation, earthquakes, plagues, gang violence and alas more starvation. She will be forced to investigate a serial killing and then, as if that isn’t enough, needs to take down the sinister emerging power structure, all-the-while learning to use a pizza box solar oven, bond with her chickens and learn to shoot a Ruger 9MM.
Etiquette for an Apocalypse [1. copy provided free by Bracket Press] is a pretty fun book with an engaging writing style and believable, enoyable characters.
By now, you’ll know I’m a bit sick of the same old apocalypse stories, and am actively looking for something different. I thouhgt I had it in Etiquette for an Apocalypse – the blurb I tracked down suggested it was primarily a murder mystery set in a post-apocalyptic world, which I was really into. However, half way through the book, that ceased to be the focus, and the plot went elsewhere. I was sort of disappointed by this – not that the actual plot wasn’t fun and entertaining, because it really, really was, but because I had been hoping for something else. (By the way, someone write a good, well-written and well-characterised post-apocalyptic murder mystery, and I will read the SHIT out of it).
Ok, so that noted, let’s talk about everything else. I loved Etiquette for an Apocalypse. I loved it a lot. I loved it with almost the same intensity I love shoes. Everything about it – the humour, the occasional lapses into script-style narrative, the first-person narrator being a middle-aged ex-social worker, her obsession with foods she can never eat again – was wonderful, a fresh attitude to post-apocalyptic writing.  Etiquette for an Apocalypse manages to portray the grim realities of life post-apocalypse whilst still being fun to read – and quite funny, too. It’s not going to be for everyone, but in my experience books that try to be for everyone often end up being for no-one. Etiquette for an Apocalypse does some things with narrative structure and voice that a lot of people won’t have seen in this sort of novel before – I think they make the book stronger, but more literarily conservative types could find them off-putting.
There are some minor problems – the first chapters are pretty seriously info-dumpy, and it’s purely because the information is actually interesting that Etiquette for an Apocalypse manages to get away with it. However, overall it’s an innovative, interesting book that deserves to be very successful.
For that reason, it gets the rare….
[rating:5 out of 5]

This is the New Plan by John Xero

This the New Plan cover

This is the New Plan by John Xero (available now)

Review copy provided by the author. 

Amazon blurb:

This is the New Plan. Thirty three genre-blending works of fiction. Thirty one flash fictions book-ended by two short stories.

This is the way the world dies. The way it is born. The way it lives and breathes. Our world, other worlds. The past, the present, the never, the future.
Discover endings and beginnings; hope and damnation; angels and demons; stolen futures… Gods, cowboys, zombies, witches, sci-fi samurai, psychopaths, little red men from Mars, and more…
Let me take you on a journey, let me show you wonders.

You may remember John Xero’s brilliant short story, “Ragestorm Requiem,” which was featured here on ICoS last year. If you enjoyed the story, you’ll probably enjoy his new book, This is the New Plan (conveniently available now).

The book is a collection of John Xero’s short stories and flash fiction pieces–33 in all. Which is a few too many for me to review individually, unfortunately–which means, of course, that you’ll have to read the book. (Aw, shucks.)

There is a great variety of stories in the book, and a good chunk of them are post-apocalyptic in nature. All of the stories are well-written, and–in my opinion, anyway–work the way short fiction should: it makes you wonder what happens next, and lets you fill in the blanks.

I’d have to say that my favorite story is still “Ragestorm Requiem,” because it’s so poignant. Maybe it’s because I have kids, and I could empathize with the way the story’s main character does everything possible to let her daughter Molly “fly.” The fact that Molly is actually dead and in an urn makes the story all the more poignant. (While reading the story I kept thinking, “What would I do if the world went to hell and one or both of my daughters died?” And I could see exactly where the character was coming from.)

Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the other stories in this book. I did–I enjoyed all of them. This one just stood out as my favorite.

Not every story is that sad/poignant/melancholy, of course; there are a lot of stories in the book. If poignant isn’t your thing, there’s bound to be something in there that is.

This book is great if you’re looking for short reads–these stories are the right length for a bus or train ride, or if you’ve only got five minutes here and there and don’t have time for a  novel. Overall, I highly recommend this book. I truly enjoyed it–I don’t give out 5 out of 5 scores lightly, but I’m giving it to this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Book link (Amazon)
Xeroverse (author’s blog)

Apocalyptic Literature: What I want to see.

Because of ICoS I now read more apocalypse-related books than ever before. I buy them with my own money AND get them sent free for review, and then I tell you about them, whether they’re good or bad. Hell, some of the books I write are apocalypse-related. So, after more than a year of reading about the apocalypse, I have a list of things I want to see  more of in future apocalyptic literature.
Better Writing:
It’s not that the writing in these books is bad. It’s usually perfectly competent. But it could be more powerful, more evocative – just more – with harsher editing. If you’re writing apocalyptic literature (especially if you’re going the self-publishing route) I’d recommend two books which will help you get it as good as possible. The Elements of Style and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. You should pick up Chuck Wendig’s books as well, but they’re less about editing and more about kicking your arse to get writing your crap, already, so that one is up to you. But the other two? Please, just do it. I’ve read loads of books with really interesting stories let down by poor editing.
Better female characters:
Most of the apocalyptic literature I’ve read was by men. The problem was, a great many of their female characters were cliches – irritating, insulting cliches at that. Remember that women are human beings rather than a collection of stereotypes. I don’t mind if one woman in your story is useless, but I start getting suspicious if she’s the only character that is, and then I’m outright judging you if ALL your women are useless. When I say ‘Better’ I mean I believe in her as a human being. Having her display some personality traits other than ‘screaming chick who needs to be rescued’ would be great. I sincerely doubt that post-apocalypse we would have time or room for ‘traditional gender roles’ anyway. While we’re at it, can we stop writing it so that even the good guys are enacting forced breeding? It’s rape, it’s skeevy and the good guys shouldn’t be forcing HUMAN BEINGS into a position where they are being abused and brutalised.
Better characters IN GENERAL.
While I find believable, relatable female characters are few and far between in apocalyptic literature, I also find that in nearly every book I’ve read the same character archetypes pop up. The grizzled, damaged war veteran. The girl who’s only a bitch cause she was raped. The creeper who betrays the group. Look, character archetypes exist for a reason, but if I can predict what your characters will do within the first 10 pages, it’s BAD. Do something new with them, something unexpected. Make the war veteran a perky, cheerful man with no dark past. Make the creeper loyal and caring, just socially awkward. Make the woman a bitch because she’s figured out that being bitchy gets stuff done. Stop relying on old, well-worn paths. Make your own.
More imagination and ingenuity:
By which I mean – write something different! There are no new stories under the sun, but there is a trick to this – write it in such a way that seems new. Add something, take something away, I don’t care what it is, but just write something different. The books are starting to blend in together now, because they’re all so similar.  The main reason I’m getting bored of zombies is that not only are they everywhere, but they’re the same bloody thing in each book. CHANGE SOMETHING. Write as though you’re setting a new standard and starting a new trend. Please? For example, check this out:  Dinocalypse Now. It’s apocalyptic literature, but it avoids the tired old tropes and boring setting, and it looks loads more fun.
Actual Research:
How would the area you’re writing in respond to an apocalyptic event? Desert, jungle, overgrown woods? Research it. How many bullets can that gun fire without jamming? If it’s been uncared for for 18 months? Research it. What does a nuclear bomb do? RE-FUCKING-SEARCH IT. If you get it wrong, people who KNOW that you got it wrong will be pulled out of your story immediately. Sure, it’s fiction. But fiction needs to seem as if it’s real to the readers, and if you get it wrong… For my current novel (which is terrible and will never get published because MY GOD) I am researching radios. My girl is a ham radio enthusiast, so I need to know at least the basics of the different types, how they work, how you’d fix one. If you’re writing a novel – even one based in a world where everything has changed – and there’s a siege, you need to research seige warfare. RESEARCH.
Bottom line: This is writing. It’s not a thing you should do because you think it’s easy money or fame (it’s really not). It’s not something you can just churn out and have it be OK. It’s something you do because the love of it means it’s the only thing you CAN do. Which means you need to do the best you can, write the best, most amazing thing you’re capable of. Don’t be scared, or small, or dull with it. Get down right into the filthy guts of it all, and be incredible.
Please, I’m begging you.
What do our readers want to see from post apocalyptic literature in future? Talk about it in the comments.
If you have something tasty and apocalyptic that you’d like reviewed, we’re always happy to do it. If your book fits these guidelines, you’ll get a much more positive review than if it doesn’t. Just email anninyn at incaseofsurvival dot com and I’ll get back to you.