Author: Warren Nast

Epeolatry Book Review: Best of R. A. Lafferty by R. A. Lafferty

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Title: The Best of R. A. Lafferty
Author: R.A. Lafferty
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor Trade
Release Date: 2nd Feb, 2021

Synopsis: Acclaimed as one of the most original voices in modern literature, a winner of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, Raphael Aloysius Lafferty (1914-2002) was an American original, a teller of acute, indescribably loopy tall tales whose work has been compared to that of Avram Davidson, Flannery O’Connor, Flann O’Brien, and Gene Wolfe.

The Best of R. A. Lafferty presents 22 of his best flights of offbeat imagination, ranging from classics like “Nine Hundred Grandmothers” and “The Primary Education of the Cameroi” to his Hugo Award-winning “Eurema’s Dam.”

Introduced by Neil Gaiman, the volume also contains story introductions and afterwords by, among many others, Michael Dirda, Samuel R. Delany, John Scalzi, Connie Willis, Jeff VanderMeer, Kelly Robson, Harlan Ellison, Michael Swanwick, Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman, and Patton Oswalt.

Lafferty’s newest short story collection includes introductions by other notable science fiction writers, such as: Neil Gaiman, Samuel R. Delany, John Scalzi, and others.  

Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, from Tulsa Oklahoma, was known as the Bard of Tulsa. He worked as an electrical engineer, and his friends called him Ray. Upon retiring at 45 years old, he became a professional writer. A Catholic and an alcoholic, Ray says, “When I was younger I got a lot of pleasure and companionship out of drinking, but probably no creative impetus. Drinking has influenced my writing all in the wrong direction.”

“Day of the Glacier,” (sadly, not included in this anthology) was Lafferty’s first published science fiction story. He was 46 years old. “It didn’t put me on easy street, but it put me on easy alley,” said Lafferty of his writing. “I was moderately successful.”  Lafferty is what I would call a foundation writer. An influence on more famous writers but not a household name like Rodenberry, Asimov, or Gaiman.  His works draw from Irish and Native American tales to the writings of St. Theresa.

Lafferty’s distinctive style — he loves proper names and alliteration. Basil Bagelbaker, Maxwell Mouser, Willy McGilly, and Arpad Arkabaranan are but a few tongue twisters encountered in these stories. Lafferty employs tall telling, using deadpan humor and adding the surreal. Consider this passage from the “Narrow Valley.”

“He’s getting better at it, Mr. Dublin,” Mary Mabel said. “He was a twin till last week. His twins name was Skinny. Mamma left Skinny unguarded while she was tippling, and there were wild dogs in the neighborhood. When Mama got back, do you know what was left of Skinny? Two neck bones and an ankle bone. That was all.”

“Poor Skinny,” Dublin said, “Well, Rampart, this is the fence and the end of my land. Yours is just beyond.”  

“Is that ditch on my land?” Rampart asked.

“That ditch is your land.”

One thing I like about a book like this — it satisfies my itch for science fiction stories, and my writer’s itch. I love books that include the authors thought process, commentary, and in this case why and how these stories influenced them on their writing journey. This anthology also contains Lafferty’s Hugo winning story “Eurema’s Dam.”

Terry Bison said, “For Lafferty is that most tender. wretched, and essential of creatures, the writers’ writer: celebrated by, beloved of, but mostly visible only to his own proud, primitive tribe.”  I would encourage you to add The best of r.a. lafferty to your collection. 

I give this book 4 out of 5

Available from  Bookshop and Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Monstre by Duncan Swan

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Title: Monstre: Volume 1
Author: Duncan Swan
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Super Hoot Publishing
Release Date: 20th September, 2020

Synopsis:  THERE IS NO STOPPING IT.

THE CLOUD IS ARMAGEDDON, STEAMROLLING THE WORLD AT A WALKING PACE.

Day 0. From the wreckage of a research facility in Switzerland, a plume of toxic smoke and ash pours into the sky, forming an impenetrable cloud that is slowly smothering the world in darkness. As Europe disappears beneath the Cloud, a squad of United States marines are sent on a desperate mission to find out what went wrong, and how to undo it before it’s too late. Venturing into a cold, dark world, the marines must travel deep under the Cloud, with no comms, no backup, and no idea of what they will face.

Monstre Volume 1 is a tight and suspenseful novel about the end of the world. The story begins at Hadron Collider, located at the CERN facility, and it has brought something into our world.  A cloud from the research facility’s wreckage begins to ooze across Europe. In the United States, a Marine squad is sent to find out what the hell is going on and how to stop it before it’s too late.

Monstre has a big cast of characters, and Swan devoted each chapter to telling their stories. From the scientist, to the Marines, to the old Tennessee Sheriff who helps a family escape west, to a rumored nuclear bunker that may be their only hope for survival. Swan’s chapter breaks and cliff hangers enticed me to keep turning the pages. 

As any novel within the Lovecraftian vein, Swan does a good job balancing horror, fantasy, and science fiction elements. Even before starting to read, I was drawn in by the cover’s horrific image and the blackened page borders, which gave the book a sinister feel. The French spelling “Monstre” imparts an indie film quality; I can see this tale as a European Netflix series.

This book will draw comparisons to Stephen King’s, The Mist. King focused on a group of survivors in a grocery store, while Swan points the camera on a worldwide view of what survivors and the military would do in a situation like this.  

People who relish Lovecraftian style writing, with an added touch of Stephen King and Tom Clancy, will enjoy this account by Swan. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

This is Duncan Swan’s debut novel. Swan was born in South Africa, raised in Australia, and now resides in L.A. with his wife and child. 

Available from amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Oppenheimer Alternative

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Title: The Oppenheimer Alternative
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Genre: Alternate History
Publisher: SFWRITER.COM Inc.
Release Date: 2nd June, 2020

Synopsis: While J. Robert Oppenheimer and his Manhattan Project team struggle to develop the A-bomb, Edward Teller wants something even more devastating: a weapon based on nuclear fusion — the mechanism that powers the sun. But Teller’s research leads to a terrifying discovery: by the year 2030, the sun will eject its outermost layer, destroying the entire inner solar system — including Earth.

After the war ends, Oppenheimer’s physicists combine forces with Albert Einstein, computing pioneer John von Neumann, and rocket designer Wernher von Braun — the greatest scientific geniuses from the last century racing against time to save our future.

Meticulously researched and replete with real-life characters and events, The Oppenheimer Alternative is a breathtaking adventure through both real and alternate history.

The greatest minds of science gather together to save the Earth in the new book The Oppenheimer Alternative (377 pgs.) written by Robert J. Sawyer. The Manhattan Project scientist, think with the completion of the A-bomb, their work is done; when they then discover the sun is going to explode in the next hundred years and they are the only ones who can stop it. The book becomes a race to see if these talented men and women can pull off the impossible and save humanity. 

As Sawyer states, every character in the book is a famous historical person; Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer, are just a few of the familiar names. Sawyer does a great job at bringing out each of their personalities. Because the characters were real people the book has a familiar feeling as you read about them. You know these names from documentaries about the atomic bomb, and the space program. I loved that Sawyer starts each chapter with a quote or excerpt from one of these scientist that I found perfect for enriching the story. When possible he used known dialogue. The bibliography is hefty with research. 

Sawyer structures his book, using a sequential timeline that touches on the major events of history: the dropping of the 2 atomic bombs; the space program; JFK’s assassination; the McCarthy hearings. This structure keeps the book moving. The reader has a better connection to the history that is unfolding in these pages.

Sawyer also does a wonderful job of explaining the science. It is easy to understand and compelling. Fusion, fission, black holes, physics and many of the Einstein’s principals get trotted out and brilliantly explained for us laypeople.

This book is a timely read, with the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs in 2020. Sawyer makes the reader understand the guilt, some of the scientists felt, at creating these weapons

Sawyer, is one of only eight writers to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He has also won the Robert A. Heinlein Award, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award, and the Hal Clement Memorial Award; the top SF awards in China, Japan, France, and Spain; and a record-setting sixteen Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (“Auroras”). Sawyer is a member in the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Sawyer lives just outside Toronto. His website and blog are at sfwriter.com, and he is on Facebook and Twitter. 

The Oppenheimer Alternative is for people who love historical science fiction. I love when a book entertains and educates me. I give this book 5 out of 5. Enjoy.

5 stars

Available from Bookshop and Amazon,

Epeolatry Book Review: Devil’s Creek by Todd Keisling

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Title: Devil’s Creek
Author: Todd Keisling
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 16th June, 2020

Synopsis: About fifteen miles west of Stauford, Kentucky lies Devil’s Creek. According to local legend, there used to be a church out there, home to the Lord’s Church of Holy Voices—a death cult where Jacob Masters preached the gospel of a nameless god. And like most legends, there’s truth buried among the roots and bones. In 1983, the church burned to the ground following a mass suicide. Among the survivors were Jacob’s six children and their grandparents, who banded together to defy their former minister. Dubbed the “Stauford Six,” these children grew up amid scrutiny and ridicule, but their infamy has faded over the last thirty years. Now their ordeal is all but forgotten, and Jacob Masters is nothing more than a scary story told around campfires. For Jack Tremly, one of the Six, memories of that fateful night have fueled a successful art career—and a lifetime of nightmares. When his grandmother Imogene dies, Jack returns to Stauford to settle her estate. What he finds waiting for him are secrets Imogene kept in his youth, secrets about his father and the church. Secrets that can no longer stay buried. The roots of Jacob’s buried god run deep, and within the heart of Devil’s Creek, something is beginning to stir…

​ Devil’s Creek (405 pg.) is the new novel from Todd Keisling. Devil’s Creek is set in Stauford, Kentucky where Pastor Jacob Masters once preached the gospel of a nameless God at the Lord’s Church of Holy Voices. 

Legend has it that after a mass suicide, the church burned down.  The only survivors were Masters’ six children ─ who became known as the “Stauford Six”. Jack Tremly, one of the six, left Kentucky behind and now has a successful art career based on the horrors of that night. Jack returns to bury his grandmother, who raised him and finds she had secrets about his father and their cult.  What was buried deep at Devil’s Creek that far away night, now threatens the “Stauford Six” and all mankind.  

​Mr. Keisling’s writing philosophy can be found in his essay “Never Look Away: Confront your Fears in Ficton”. Keisling says, “You shouldn’t look away from your subject matter, no matter how disturbing it is to you. Looking away does a disservice to your story, and by proxy, your reader.”  Keisling does not shy away from the graphic gore, violence, and sex. Here is an example from chapter three: “Robby Croner buried the blade into his gullet, engulfing his hand in a torrent of blood. He cut as far as his Adam’s apple before he collapsed. The world stopped around them, the air still and the sounds of crickets silenced as blackened gore oozed from their dead friend’s open wound. A scream worked its way into Imogene’s mouth and would’ve found voice if not for what followed.”

Keisling is a skilled writer, using vivid descriptions, interesting characters, and unique settings to keep this book moving at a brisk pace.  Keisling has a deft hand with pacing all while juggling a large cast of characters. 

The story takes place over decades, and Keisling does a remarkable job with backstory and with moving between the decades. His skillful chapter breaks made me want to keep reading. The vivid descriptions had me worried about reading this before bed because it interfered with my beauty sleep! Beware; this book is heavy on the occult. At times I felt uncomfortable about the subject matter. But I felt compelled to keep reading the beautiful sentences found in the prose.  

​This book will appeal to people who love well written intense horror. I give it 5 stars, and I don’t give that type of rating lightly. It is available on Amazon on June 16, 2020. 

Available on amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Berserker: Green Hell

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Title: Berserker: Green Hell
Author: Lee Franklin
Genre: Horror
Publisher: HellBound Books
Release Date: 7th July, 2019

Synopsis:

A terrifying debut novel set during the Vietnam War.Australian Lance Corporal Terence ‘Pinny’ Pinfold and his squad find themselves in the midst of the living hell of the Vietnam War.Known as Reapers, their job is to go in after the firefights, collect dog tags and any evidence of war crimes. As each soldier tries to make some sense out of a senseless war, there are more questions than answers as mutilated, butchered bodies are discovered the further to the North they venture. Pinny soon finds himself at the very core of the real war – in a secret underground facility amongst hybrid creatures which belong only in the very worse nightmares. With Pinny’s aboriginal bloodline, the enigmatic Doctor Jacinta Harding believes she has found the perfect specimen… Pinny might survive the war, but he might not save himself.

Berserker: Green Hell (183 pages, Hellbound Book LLC Publications, 2019) by Lee Franklin is her debut novel. This book takes place during the Vietnam War and follows a group of Australian soldiers, known as Reapers, as they gather evidence of war crimes. The Reapers soon discover that they are not alone in the jungle and they must fight their way back to safety. As they attempt to make it back to civilization they discover the Americans have built a secret facility and may have some connection with the beast stalking them.

Lee writes with vivid descriptions and settings. Her tale’s action comes off as believable, and her bio mentions she served in the Australian Army. What I enjoyed is that this book leans into the Australian culture. The exposition on aboriginal bloodlines, the slang, and race tensions provide newness for American readers. If you like war-type violence, you’ll enjoy this read as Lee does not shy away from writing it out on the page. There are times I felt she could have used some more restraint to build tension. In the early chapters, Lee often tells the reader what they are seeing, instead of showing us and letting the reader create the image. No first book is perfect; my reader copy had a few typos and grammatical errors.

I was not totally satisfied with the ending. The lesson that Pinny learns about power and responsibility felt like it had not been earned. Lee appears to have a second part in mind, so perhaps she plans to dig deeper into Pinny’s psyche. The vivid descriptions and the Australian characters kept me interested to the end.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy creature horror and government conspiracies. 

I rate this book 3 out of 5.

Available on Amazon and Book Shop.