Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs

Space Case is one of the nominations for this year's Edgar awards in the juvenile category. As in previous years, I decided to read the nominations and make a prediction as to which one could win. In previous years I have been more right than wrong. There are no major or even minor spoilers in this review.

I grabbed a couple other nominations from this category and began reading the opening chapters of all of them one after the other, but by the next day this was the only one that I was still reading. What fascinated me the most about Space Case, at least in the beginning was the setting: The first Moon base. The science and logistics of low gravity living are great attention grabbers and the confined space from which there is no escape adds to the suspense and tension in the story.

Kids reading this book will learn a lot about what it would be like to live on the Moon. The information is accurate, too, as the author admits getting lots of help from real astronauts. However, the protagonist, Dashiell, a twelve year old, does not like it. His parents have jobs on the moon base and so his whole family lives there in a cramped room on a cramped base. The food is bad, going to the washroom is disturbing, he has few friends, and the other kids his own age there, are not ones he would hang out with on earth; in general, he feels like he is in a prison and there is nothing he can do about it. If he complains, he will get in trouble with NASA.

Dashiell is a great character, as are all the supporting characters in the story. Adults in the story think Dashiell has a bit of an attitude problem but that is understandable considering the circumstances. It is stressful enough growing up on earth, let alone on the Moon, but he tries hard to put a positive spin on it all. He is witty, brave and observant. His humor colors the overall tone, which leaps off the page and adds to the fast pace, making this a real page turner.

After a scientist dies, he suspects it is murder, but no one believes him and NASA does not want to pursue his suspicions, because that would taint the image the world has of the first Moon base. Dashiell is told to forget about the mysterious death, but when one adult has the same suspicions, he helps her and continues his investigation-  under the radar. There are no shortage of suspects, everyone is acting suspicious.There are plenty of clues and plenty of red herrings to untangle.

The climactic scene is a great action sequence when Dash goes on a moonwalk. The ending has a great twist no one could predict, despite the clues and the foreshadowing.

On the cover it states that this is a  Moon Base Alpha novel, which suggests this could be part of a series in the making. I'm looking forward to reading others in the future, especially after the twist ending in this book. The storyline possibilities are endless.

Five out of five stars. Grab it!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Goose and Springtime

Spring is late. Winter rages and all the forest animals are freezing and starving to death, so one goose takes it upon itself to travel to the land of Winter and plead with it to end, only to learn that Spring, a young rascal, is late in coming because it's out having fun. The only way to end the long cold winter means sacrifice, as the goose sets off to find Spring.

 As the middle of April in Toronto has seen some nasty wintery weather, this reminded me of this story written so long ago and so decided to post it in a few places online.

This fable/fairy tale is now available to read at I'll Tell you a Story. This story first appeared in the Rose and Thorn and was later picked up in 2005 by the Taj Mahal Review. Despite the temptation to edit it, the story has been left in all its glory and with its editorial flaws intact.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Stu and the Stupid Stew

 Stuart, an inquisitive nine-year-old boy, lives in a village full of people so stupid that after falling in love with a delicious stew, the local philosophers come up with the Thought of thoughts: build a gigantic pot, fill it with stew, jump in and live happily ever after.

Only there's a problem: As the villagers stuff their faces, the stew becomes less. If they don’t escape, everyone will be trapped and burned at the bottom of the pot. Before long, the only way to the rim will be to build a human ladder. Stu sets out to warn everyone.

However there’s another problem: the villagers have forgotten they’re in a pot and demand proof - that Stu bring this so-called pot or mythical bottom to them. The philosophers force Stu to go to the bottom in a box where he meets a bizarre character called Archibald, Lord of Soup Sharks with 36 brains, who the philosophers have slanderously called the devil. However, a few begin to believe Stu's legend of the Bottom, calling him a prophet. Then a ridiculous war breaks out between the philosophers, and Stu wonders if they will ever escape in time.

This is an allegorical/satire middle grade silliness. Sample chapters available at  Authonomy.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Metal, Bark and Whispers Soup

Stephen King was right when he said that an author is not always, if ever, a good judge of his or her work. Metal, Bark and Whispers Soup is probably my most successful story. Yet it's my opinion it's not my best work. For example, a personal favorite: The Peasant who annoyed Death, does not get much, if any, positive feedback, sometimes quite the opposite. And something like The Way of the Cow is largely ignored. However, some of the absurdity in Metal, Bark and Whispers Soup is enjoyable, like: ..he ran so fast his chin was in his mouth...

Metal, Bark and Whispers Soup received an excellent edit by Meredith Morgenstern when it was first published by the Rose and Thorn back in 2003. It then was nominated for the Pushcart Prize that year and may (or may not) have been read on a New York radio station - on WBAR, a nonprofit station in 2004.

It was reprinted at Bewildering Stories where it was voted one of their top 13 stories in the 2nd quarter of 2011 (679 votes on 93 titles).

It is now available at I'll Tell you a Story. There is only one small change: a semicolon was added. This site offers up fairy tales from all around the world. It is a fairly new site but may become a handy database in the future of fairy tales from all over the world. It is appropriate this story is made available there during the Halloween season this year, as the protagonist is a tiny witch.

Publishing history:

Metal, Bark and Whispers / I'll Tell You a Story / October 2012
Metal, Bark and Whispers / BEWILDERING STORIES / Spring 2011
Metal, Bark and Whispers Soup / THE ROSE AND THORN / Fall 2003

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How the Dead Die

How the Dead Die is now available at Hogglepot. The story is set during World War 1 at the height of the stalemate, when neither side was gaining ground yet many men were dying for what looked like no reason at all. This story has a slight Twilight Zone feel to it, mixed with the old stories from the Weird War Tales comic which is one of my favorite comics.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Peasant who annoyed Death

The Peasant who annoyed Death is now available at Shortbread Stories. A slightly humorous fable in which Death is kind of like the good guy, giving advice to a peasant too lazy to keep Death away.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What the Fisherman did not see

What the Fisherman did not see is now available and Shortbread Stories. This story originally appeared several years ago in the last issue of Writer's Hood. This version has been revised and shortened.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Edgar Nominees for 2011

Next week the winner of the 2012 Edgar award will be announced so now is the time -- beforehand -- to add my two cents as to which book, in my humble opinion, should win the prestigious award.

It didn't take long to read them all. This is my reading order, if that means anything: Field Gray, The Devotion of Suspect X, 1222, Gone and The Ranger. They are all great books but in my mind the winner is obvious.

To begin with, after reading Field Gray by Philip Kerr, it was my opinion that this would win. It is a great book. The setting, spanning a couple decades after World War Two, in which a German police officer is caught up in the intrigues and chaos after the war, is my cup of tea. The film noir feel to it and the funny imagery, metaphors and similes were original. There are plenty of twists and turns to leave the reader wondering over several things before they all weave into a satisfying conclusion. Definitely looking forward to more from this series.

However, nothing could prepare me for The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. As a mystery story, it is unusual, in that we know at the beginning who committed the crime and why. The reader begins by observing the police investigate and yet the closer they come to solving the crime, the more confused the reader gets, being left to puzzle over suspect X's methods and motivation for covering up the crime.

1222 is by Anne Holt, a Norwegian writer. Scandinavian mysteries have a special place in my heart. It probably has something to do with the setting. And this one does not disappoint. The murderer, suspects, victims and detective are isolated in a hotel in the mountains, snowed in with no way to escape during a storm. There is an element of the locked room mystery, however, strictly as a locked room puzzle it disappoints, if you were expecting something not unlike John Dickson Carr. The weird thing about this one is that it is part of a series but this, which is not the first book, is the only one currently available in English. Nevertheless the main character of Hanne Wilhelmsen captivates.

Gone by Mo Hayder reads like a thriller. It is fast paced, as the detectives race against the clock to find a kidnapped girl before she is murdered. It is an intense read, paced well and hard to put down and it wouldn't be surprising if this book won. Having a little girl abducted right in the first chapter is a hook most readers can't resist and you find yourself rooting for her as if she's someone you know.

The Ranger by Ace Atkins establishes a sense of place and character, quickly and effectively. Maybe that has something to do with the fact this is a series as are all the books nominated except for The Devotion of Suspect X. The ranger from which the title comes, is filled with all the usual angst and troubled past that makes for lots of conflict. Atkins's style is crisp and to the point, which makes for a fast paced mystery.

In the end, my vote goes to The Devotion of Suspect X. It is a fast paced story, with mystery and emotion, and with an ending that will leave you stunned and spellbound.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Here is a shorter version of Old Muds that was entered into a contest at Shortbread last month for Valentin's Day. In order to qualify the story had to be cut down to 500 words or less, which was a fun exercise in brevity and didn't take long; only one or two tough decisions needed to be made in regards to what could stay and what had to go. It came fourth out of about 25 stories, which is respectable.

Friday, April 01, 2011

It is now possible to read Metal, Bark and Whispers Soup at Bewildering Stories. This story was originally published at the Rose and Thorn and was nominated for the Pushcart prize that year (2003).