A review of Rich Hawkins’s”The Plague Winter”

Horror writer David Moody runs “Infected Books,” a publishing company devoted to horror fiction.  Infected Books are completing a year long monthly series of novellas of zombie fiction by different horror writers.  “The Plague Winter” is Rich Hawkins’s contribution.

I haven’t read Hawkins’s”Plague” novels that this derives from, but on the strength of this I will most certainly be checking them out.  So not having read this this review will be not be informed by the wider canvas of this particular apocalypse.  But from what we can gather from the novella, humanity is done, wiped out by a hideous infection that transforms people into deformed, tumescent, zombie like creatures.  But that’s not all.  Their flesh is likely to erupt at any given moment into gaping, extra mouths full of alien teeth and livid red, suckered tendrils.  If you think “The Thing” meets “The Walking Dead” you won’t go far wrong.

In this novella a grandfather (Eddie)  shepherds his grandson (Sam) through this nightmare landscape.  The grandfather scavenges for food (and whisky to keep his alcoholic demons at bay), returning to the cottage where he guards Sam under lock and key.  They apocalyptic setting, scenes of scavenging, and father/son relationship is reminiscent of “The Road,” and even has a staccato writing style not dissimilar to Cormac McCarthy’s.  But it is a good, and skillful borrowing.

It is a brisk, riveting read and has a sucker punch at the end. Recommended, and a real hook to the rest of this series.

 

A review of the podcast “The Robcast”

“The Rob Cast” is a weekly podcast presented by Rob Bell.  Rob is many things.  He’s an ex Pastor at Mars Hill Church, a ‘Mega-Church’in the US.  Rob became controversial when his book “Love Wins” firmly positioned him as a proponent of the ‘Universalist’ branch of Christian thought; that is, that all, without exception, will be saved.  This was too much for those who like their Hell, be it good old fashioned ‘eternal torment,’ or those who take to the ‘annihilationist’ position.  That is, you don’t get tortured for ever if you reject the Gospel.  That would be barbaric!  You instead get ‘executed’ or snuffed out to nothing if you reject the Christian God.  Liberals today, huh?

But all that is in the past.  Now Rob continues to tour, speak, host conferences, help businesses, broadcast, and write.  His latest, “How to be Here,” is being promoted by Rob through a tour.

His podcast is notable because it is a treasure trove of fresh, clear thinking, and is the kind of resource that will open up new horizons to you if you let it.  Rob has studied the Talmud and the Jewish faith and its lore and has connected it with his Christian faith.  He communicates some of what he has learnt, and it is truly illuminating, and led me to buy a copy of “Everyman’s Talmud.”

The podcast also has guest speakers and guests, and is informed by other passions of Rob’s including diving, and his experiences of being a husband and parent.

Everyone will find something here to inspire them or get them thinking, if but they keep an open mind.

Rob has his catchphrases and mannerisms, that someone recently observed you could base a drinking game on, including the repetition of “so good.”

The podcast is stripped down, just Rob or Rob and his guests speaking, and it’s all the better for that. So good.

 

 

A review of Riyria Chronicles Tales “The Jester” and “Professional Integrity.”

Both of these short stories, set in Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy series “The Riyria Chronicles,” are available separately and are currently free on Audible UK.

They are both gems, and they compelled me after listening to buy the first volume of the Riyria Chronicles.

‘The Thief’ is a fantasy archetype used in fantasy literature and gaming.  Their skill-set usually includes stealth and lock-picking, usually framed in a rouge’s exterior but (sometimes) grounded nevertheless with a moral sense.

Here all of the above would be true, but from these two short stories I felt I got to know the characters very well, as they are so well drawn.  It helps that there is a lot of humour, fresh, funny, character driven and enriching to the story, but not the familiar satire you would expect from Terry Pratchett (God rest his soul) and his imitators.

The protagonists are Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, a team of two thieves for hire in a world of traps, dungeons, treachery, and feuding lords and kingdoms.  In “The Jester” we are introduced to our heroes and other protagonists in mid plummet as they find themselves on the wrong end of a trap.  It’s a wonderful opening.  With a cowardly pig farmer and the determined candle maker who hired them, they must solve the mystery of missing map pieces that may or may not lead to treasure, the quest having been set by the titular Jester. They find themselves in a sealed flooded room, with an angry monster on the other side of one door, and possible traps leading from a lever, another door, and a treasure chest.  They must activate or go through one of these to get out of the chamber.  Only one will lead to freedom (a previous wrong choice led them to the opening plummet) but which?

The story is told rapidly in flashback, or rather the key bits of it we need to know.  It’s a good way of quickly filling in the backdrop for this short story.  The humour is in the bickering and interplay between these very different characters.

A 40  minute listen that got me hooked to the characters, their world and the narrative style, this is testament to the writers skill.

I followed this up with “Professional Integrity.”  This is an ingenious mystery of the “locked box in a room” variety.  Hired by a naive young woman to arrange her own kidnapping to attract the attentions of a suitor who she presumes will come to the rescue, Royce and Hadrian are intrigued, especially when the girl explains that she is locked in a box by a father when this beau comes to visit.  Things soon, of course, escalate and unravel in highly entertaining and unexpected directions.

Lovely stuff, and looking forward to exploring this world more.

Good, clear, characterful narration from Tim Gerard Reynolds.

A review of Stephen Donaldson’s fantasy novella “The King’s Justice”

“The Kings Justice” is a fantasy novella of sorcerers,  elemental forces, and good versus evil.

It begins with the enigmatic, cloaked figure who calls himself “Black” arriving at a small town settlement called “Settler’s Crossways.”  He’s driven by a burning purpose that draws him on, a need to ensure that a terrible war between elemental forces is not repeated.  He can smell evil, and Settler’s Crossway’s reeks of it.  He gradually learns of the brutal murder of a small boy that has left the community stunned and reeling.  What has this to do with his wider mission?  Is someone or something attempting to conjure monstrous new elemental forces?  What is the nature of “The King’s Justice” that the townsfolk have called for and how can Black deliver it?

This book is a rock hard diamond of compact storytelling.  Not one word is superfluous, each syllable drives the story forward with a terrible urgency.  In  119 pages it’s a masterclass in concentrated world-building.  Donaldson’s Kingdom of elemental wars, Sorcerers, “Shapers” and “Shaped men” focused on a small community visited by a terrible evil has complete narrative integrity.  Black is a familiar genre figure, the driven, cloaked and armed loner as an agent of justice.  But the difference here is that he is a “shaped man,” covered with glyphs and sigils that can summon the elemental magic he strives to keep in balance in his world.

The tale’s examination of wider themes of good and evil does not stop at cliche.  They are powerful and transcendent.  The evil here is not just a fuming Dark Lord, but crimes of the most appalling violence that unfortunately we are all to familiar with in our own world.  Donaldson writes compellingly of the effect of these crimes on those most closely affected, such as a grieving father.  The powers of goodness are described are not twee or completely overshadowed by the evil as in some current popular fantasy series, but compelling and redemptive.  Donaldson starts by having a his hero describe a reductive worldview where the world and all its elemental forces are all there is,(substitute these forces for science and our world and you’ll get the idea), and then transcends it  as Black and those around him experience much more.

I listened to the audio-book version, narrated by the excellent Scott Brick.  His reading has a contained, driven passion that completely suits the tale.