Friday, December 14, 2012

Review of The Emerald Forge by Manda Benson

The Emerald Forge 
Review of The Emerald Forge by Manda Benson
Tangentrine Press 12-12-12

This is a fast-paced thriller/adventure story that hits the ground running and will keep you turning pages until you realize with a shock that it’s over and you have to wait forever for the next one.

The Emerald Forge is the sequel to Pilgrennon’s Beacon, following the continuing adventures of Dana Provine, the product of an experiment by Ivor Pilgrennon, a scientist with a bit of a Frankenstein complex. Dana, who is autistic, has a chip in her brain that lets her talk to computers. In fact, she feels much more comfortable with logical, predictable computers than she does with illogical, unpredictable human beings, and much of the appeal of the book comes from Dana’s attempts to make sense of “normal” human behavior. She is, however, more functional in human society than her similarly equipped brother, Cale.

Ivor, who is Dana's biological father, is missing and presumed dead, but Dana, who had become attached to him when she met him before, has hopes that he’s alive. Her search for Ivor is one of the motivations for the adventure that follows.

Dana’s foster parents, now adoptive parents, Graeme and Pauline, are wonderfully caring, patient people who do their best to cope with the challenges represented by Dana and Cale, but they don’t know about the chips, nor are they fully aware of much of Dana’s activities. School is still terrible, replete with bullies and clueless teachers. It gets marginally better when Dana makes a tentative alliance with Eric, another misfit, who turns out to be the boy Dana had met previously, in a computer simulation. But that connection brings problems of its own, as do all of Dana’s attempts at making friends.

As in the first book, there’s an abundance of mad scientist stuff, including weird biological-machine creatures, patterned after mythical beasts. Super computers and flying fortresses. Remote-controlled animals of all sorts. “Impossible” chimeras, who exist with the aid of nanobytes in their systems. The mysterious girl in Dana’s dreams who turns out to be more of a nightmare. A blind man who “sees” through the eyes of an eagle.

Dana re-connects with her emotionally and ethically challenged biological mother, Jananin Blake, who is now a spokesperson for the meritocracy, the new form of government that has taken over Britain. The two share a hair-raising adventure, which includes some of Dana’s siblings from Ivor’s experiments.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review of Becoming a Boy by Will Robertson

Cartoonists have a rare skill of being able to condense a story, an ironic twist, or a profound truth into a minimum of simple lines and maybe a handful of words.  It’s a step beyond “flash fiction” and way out of the league of yours truly, who tends to write “long” rather than “short.”

Will Robertson, an up-and-coming cartoonist, has published several collections of his daily comic strips.  Now he’s put together a new book, a bit different from the others, which explains the Christian concept of being “born again” in a story as simple and profound as Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree.

Most of my friends and family are aware that I classify myself as a non-denominational live-and-let-live Christian.  I treat other people’s beliefs (or non-belief) with respect, and generally receive the same respect for mine.  I don’t feel called to be an evangelist. I do sometimes “preach to the choir,” reminding self-professed Christians of the essence of their religion: love God and your neighbor.  I’ll share my beliefs when asked, but mostly I try to be a living testimony, to “walk the walk” instead of just “talking the talk.” That’s what this book is about, also: the futility of “talking the talk” if you’re not willing to “walk the walk.” 

I see this book as a useful tool to reach non-committed sort-of Christians who are teetering on the brink, as well as a reminder to those who have strayed from the path.  I think it would also appeal to kids who are just learning about religion.  I suggested to Will that it’s a form of “sneaky evangelism” because a lot of people will pick up a cartoon book to read for amusement, and get hit between the eyes by the message. As for my non-Christian (and even anti-Christian) friends, especially the writers, whether or not you’re interested in the message, you might enjoy it as a deceptively simple story, beautifully told.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book recommendation: The Dodo Dragon and Other Stories

My friend, Sheila Crosby, has just released an e-book, The Dodo Dragon and Other Stories. It's available from's Kindle Store ( as well as from Dragon Tree Publishing ( in epub, Kindle, and PDF formats.

This collection has something for everyone and a story to fit every mood, from the poignant tale of the last dragon (The Dodo Dragon) to the zaniness of  Jose’s AI appliances (The Appliance of Science), who plunk him down in the middle of the sardines’s funeral procession—a Canary Islands carnival tradition. 

Crosby, a British expat living on the Canary Island of La Palma, also draws on local color for a unique alien contact story (Zuggy Zu and the Humans) which offers some insights as to what really goes on in the observatories.

There’s plenty of drama in the time travel story, “Scream Quietly”,  as well as in “Breathing Space”—an asteroid mining disaster in which a desperate mother finds a new use for the freezer. I won’t hint at the ending of “Infant Colic” but it might make you shudder. Sprinkled liberally in between are a delightful assortment of “Feghoots”—short-short stories featuring elaborate and atrocious puns.

Sheila has had lots of short stories published, but this is her first collection.  I'm hoping there will be more.

You might also enjoy her blogs, which include: - A Small Rock in the Atlantic - A Breathtaking Window on the Universe - The Write Site

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review of Fallstaff’s Big Gamble by Hank Quense

Shakespeare is probably rolling over in his grave laughing. Quense “borrows” three of the bard’s best-known characters and sets them down in his mythical Gunderland. The denizens of this land are mostly trolls, elves, dwarves, half-pints (think Hobbits) and yuks, but they display all our basic human foibles: short-sighted, gullible, cunning, clueless, avaricious, self-serving … As is typical of Quense’s characters, they all are afflicted with a bad case of tunnel vision, lying to themselves as well as others and incapable of seeing the big picture.

Hamlet, the Crown Prince of Denmarko, is torn between avenging his father’s murder and following his chosen profession of beekeeping. Colonel Othello discovers that being in charge of Homeland Security for the city of Dun Hythe is fraught with complications—but those pale before the discovery that he owes his appointment to his wife’s grandmother, who is The Godmother, the local crime boss. And then there’s that fascinating rogue, the con artist Falstaff.

Any one of these would provide an intriguing story, but Quense stirs them all together to come up with a convoluted plot that could only take place in Gunderland. Schemes and counter schemes, bravery and treachery, battles on land and sea, true love…what’s not to like? for more details: scheduled for release in April, 2012