Review: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex

Writing horror isn’t easy. There are a lot of pitfalls that an author can fall into revolving around whether something turns too gory, too real, too fake, too hopeless, too unbelievable, or too disconnected from it’s audience. A lot of horror starts out well, but when it comes to the middle of the second act, it falls apart, a victim of it’s own narrative as the author tries and fails to ramp up the tension in new and exciting ways while still keeping our interest in these characters that we’re pretty sure are all going to die anyway.
It isn’t easy.
I point this out because I think that Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is possibly one of the best examples that I have ever seen of how to take a few classic horror tropes and write them as new and exciting plot devices without being too heavy-handed.

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Review: X-Files: Cold Cases

Product DetailsBack in 2008, I moved to Iowa from upstate New York (read that as “Farther upstate than what you’re thinking”). I’m a social butterfly, and I made a ton of friends in my new home very quickly, but that didn’t stop me from having evenings alone. On one of those particular evenings, I made a serious decision to do something silly: I was going to rent all of the sci-fi shows that I had never gotten a chance to see before then and give them a watch (to be fair, I also included every b-rated sci-fi movie as well. For that reason, I’ve seen both Time Runner and The Guyver. For both of those, I thank you Mark Hamill).
This is how I became a fan of The X-Files, staring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (and a million other stars who would later go on to guest star or star in their own sci-fi shows). I went on every single mission with them and grew to love Mulder’s silly moments and Scully’s skepticism.
And, after binge-watching all nine seasons, keeping magnets at the ready, and learning to fear the year 2012, I faced the inevitable truth that so many others had already learned to cope with.
The X-files was over.
It sucked, and I tried finding more of the snarky Fox wit through the comic books, but it wasn’t the same. The movies came and went, trying to fill the gaps for some of us, but alas, they were a drop of water in a desert. There and gone far too quickly to quench any real thirst. I had to face a cold and hard fact: There were never going to be any more of The X-files.
Life happened and years went by and I was sitting at my computer and writing when my wife blurted out, “They’re bringing back X-files.”
Wait…what?
Not a reboot, and not another movie, but a new season picking up with most of the original cast and some great sounding new cast.
Then the season came, with mixed reviews, but I loved it. The mixed reviews had me worried, though. Would they keep it going?
Yes, it turns out. They are working on a 11th season as we speak.
Absolutely wonderful, but what about the time in between. Do I really have in the vast oceans of time between each of these seasons?
As it turns out, no, my friend, we no longer have to wait idly by. That’s where Audible’s new series, The X-files: Cold Cases, steps in.
Cold Cases is a full cast dramatization, bringing back all of your favorite characters and filling the gap between the end of the first nine seasons and the beginning of the 10th season. It’s cleverly done, and brings to life the characters that have earned so much of our respect. The only negative to any of this was that the writing of the show had to be changed to fit the new format. Instead of seeing something and then getting a snarky Mulder comment or a dry Scully remark, we instead get told that something is happening and then receive the comment.
For example (totally made up and not in the books, but illustrating my point): “Mulder, why are you holding that gun at an odd angle? And why is it covered in paint?” “Scully, lower your eyebrow before it floats away. I’m holding this gun because it’s evidence, and it’s painted this very interesting shade of blue because it’s covered in alien fecal matter.”
See, very descriptive, reminding you that it’s a radio show. I think I might have preferred narration instead, but I honestly don’t know because it’s not an option. This isn’t a complaint, so much as the only thing that made it different than the show we love.
Other than that, you get all of the great sci-fi tropes and monster of the week things that X-files is famous for, as well as some new sci-fi tropes that I don’t think X-files has ever dealt with in the past. You get Smoking Man, Skinner, Reyes, Doggit, and a few more surprises that I won’t spoil for you.
Oh boy, you’re in for a surprise.
I give this a 5 out of 5. I loved it, and I want more Audible Original full dramatizations. I’m moving on to the Alien ones next, and the sequel to Cold Cases will be out in October!
Can’t wait!
–MD–

Review: Lucifer’s Star

Lucifer's StarI was going to introduce this review with a comparison to all of the works that Lucifer’s Star reminded me of, but, while there are so many of them, not a single one can be used to give you a good sense of what this book is about.
Lucifer’s Star follows Cassius Mass, a former member of a royal house with huge political sway that they use to wage war. The world building in this book was amazing and we see a lot of detailed explanations in the interplanetary relationships as well as the individual cultures, all without taking away from the main story by being too filled with description. The descriptors come out naturally.
Cassius is a clone of the sovereign, with cybernetic implants to make him the perfect warrior, the perfect royal heir, and the perfect sexual partner. Each of these lending itself toward complicating his life more and more before finally, as a direct result of the Archduchy’s ongoing war. By the start of chapter 2, we find a down and out, drug and alcohol addled, his face and DNA changed to hide his identity, and living aboard a pirate spaceship with a questionable crew.
Then the crew finds out that he’s one of those rich nobles who somehow screwed each one of them over in some different way in the past.
From that point, his past begins to come back in a huge way and takes Cassius on a path that makes him question not only who he is, but also everything that he previously held as true. He’s forced to question everything from the difference (culturally) of right and wrong, the idea of identity, what defines a life, the galactic politics, and lots of questions of what love is versus like and versus lust.
Like most CT Phipps books, this book focuses a lot on Cassius discovering his identity once he’s been stripped of all the superfluous things that he thought was his identity. He goes through a huge transition from the beginning of the book all the way to the end.
When I said this book reminded me of a couple of other stories, it really did, but mostly in just elements. The entire pirate ship and such reminded me a lot of Talon Kardde from the Star Wars Expanded Universe/Legends books. The politics, and how they are so intricately defined, as well as the caste system that’s plainly obvious, reminded me a lot of the Red Rising books. There was even a moment that reminded me of the Borg from Star Trek. A lot of reminders, or ingredients, that made themselves into a great cake.
And I love cake!
5 out of 5. Epic Space Fantasy that leaves me begging to learn more about Cassius Mass!

Review: The Science of Supervillainy

The Supervillainy series by C.T. Phipps has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a few years now. Not only has Gary Karkofsky’s antics as an accidentally successful supervillain just been an absolute pleasure to read, but the world environment, the unexpected twists, and the tongue-in-cheek references to pop-culture makes for an exciting and entertaining read.
The newest arrival to that series, The Science of Supervillainy, hits all of those notes in spades.
This book picks up directly where the last book left off. The Other Gary and President Omega are about to pull off their plan, but Gary and crew take care of it pretty quickly, until they don’t. A time jump ahead and all of the old characters, a bunch of new characters, and a little girl with a super brain step up to help Gary save…err… I mean take over…err…well save first, and then take over? Whatever his plans, the world is in danger, and not his kind of danger. So it’s up to him and his rough and tumble crew to step up and stop Other Gary from erasing them all from existence.
The Science of Supervillainy is filled with both comedic and dramatic moments that blend well together. Using both the dramatic and comedic is how Phipps illustrates, surprisingly well, the conflicts of being a supervillain with morals. Wanting to own and rule the world doesn’t necessarily mean that you want the world to be a filled with shitty people, and Gary most certainly wants to rule the world, but why can’t he have his cake and eat it too?
Elements of this book I loved were the same as the previous titles. The cross-pollination from other worlds, time-travel, comedy, weirdly conceived relationships, and of course the pop-culture references help to make this a fun read. It works so well, and I look forward to the next installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Tower of Zhaal

Post-Apocalyptic fiction is fun, but Post-Apocalyptic Lovecraft fiction is even better.

That kind of fun led me to C.T. Phipps’ “The Tower of Zhaal.”

The Tower of Zhaal is the sequel to Phipps’ first successful foray into Lovecraftian fiction, Cthulhu Armageddon. In that first book, the world has been ravaged by the long ago (but still in our current future) rise of the Great Old Ones. The hero of the first book, John Henry Booth is back, and the taint of the world has eeked it’s way into his own flesh. With Nyarlahotep whispering in his ear, and the threat of the end of the human race on the brink of happening, John has to risk everything with a team that he can’t trust in order to save the few parts of the hellish world that mean something to him.

While traveling to and with some very Mythos specific names, as well as some that are a treat for readers of contemporary Mythos fiction (ie: the Ghoul priest being named Hoade as an obvious reference to fellow contemporary Mythos writer, Sean Hoade). The explanations of Magic, the Science of the Mind, and the different Alien races make it an epic adventure on par with Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but within the Mythos elements that bring us back.

The world has ended, Alien Gods are everywhere, and the question of humanities survival is a complex one. Can Humanity survive? Should Humanity survive? Would the Humanity that survives even be recognizable as Human?

Phipps weaves a great tale, that makes for an exciting read.

5 out of 5 Stars!

Minor Potential Spoiler: There’s a scene in this book that made me laugh out loud, but not because it was funny. The moment I read it, I wanted to shout, “Ah! He’s been Rick and Morty’d!!!”

Review: The Haunting of Barry Allen

Wow, just wow! When I get really involved in a show, I tend to either hunt for more stories in that universe or write my own in the form of fan-fiction. It was one of these hunts that led me to discovering Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Flash: The Haunting of Barry Allen.
The entire book reads like a long episode of the Flash. We get a look at each character as they work on their own plot specifics, and we even get a great chance to see Rathaway as a villain again. Pre-Flashpoint has made a lot of great stories possible, by making everything that takes place before that Canon/Not-Canon, since Flashpoint ends up undoing anything that might have been story specific.
Anyway, Rathaway builds his own Rogue’s Gallery out of Peekaboo, Nimbus, Prism, and Weather Wizard. He uses them to terrorize the city. The major plot here is actually a callback to the giant wormhole that opened up when Eddie Thawne ended season 1 the way he did. Barry’s visited by ghosts and mirages from the future while also trying to battle to protect his city. It’s more than one man, even the fastest man, can handle.
Enter the Arrow! Teams join together to combat the evil that has plagued the city and the end result is a great read that has me incredibly excited about the second book that just came out.
This book was well done and fits well with the Canon of the series. Loved it, and have already started reading book 2.

Review: Esoterrorism by C.T. Phipps

I was lucky enough to listen to the audio book, Esoterrorism by C.T. Phipps.

I’ve been a fan of C.T.’s other books (The Rules of Supervillainy, Cthulhu Armageddon) and Esoterrorism doesn’t disappoint.

You follow an agent of the “Red Room,” Derek. The Red Room is a like the CIA of the supernatural. Most importantly, they focus on keeping the majority of the world’s populace in the dark about the things that go bump in the night.

This leads to some moral questions regarding whether or not the world is prepared to know and at what point does the prime directive of keeping the secret interfere with keeping the world safe?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a C.T. Phipps book without a strong character with emotional conundrums plaguing his life, and Derek definitely delivers. His questionable parentage, his conflicted relationship with his ex-wife, and the fact that the interbreeding of the Red Room means that a large portion of their dying agents and operatives are relatives of his. Needless to say, every day at the Red Room should have a mandatory psych eval hour.

The battle includes Derek’s new partner (he has a sordid history with partners), who isn’t altogether what she seems. Using the resources of the Red Room, they have to work together to stop a worldwide disaster of supernatural proportions.

There are two things that Phipps does insanely well. The first, I’ve already mentioned. His characters are usually carrying emotional baggage with them and the story works well to help them in their journey. They have arc and undergo great character development.

The second thing is the action, and this book delivers. Phipps fills this book with the perfect balance of action to developmental scenes and the story reads great because of it.

In regards to the audio book, Jeffrey Kafer is a great voice and a great producer. I’ve been a fan of each of his works and he delivers a great performance in this one as well. I think my only complaint was that after listening to each of the Supervillainy books, I found myself having a hard time not thinking of this supernatural action thriller as somehow intending to be as comical as that series was. That’s more a commentary on my personal experience in the audio book, than anything against the book or it’s audio producer. Like I said, stellar work by the producer.

This book gets five stars, and I look forward to the sequels.

Review of Cthulhu Armaggedon

Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps

Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps

This was a review that I originally wrote for Shoggoth.net.

I first came across the writings of C.T. Phipps while reading his Rules of Supervillainy series. I thoroughly enjoyed those books, so when I heard that C.T. was coming out with an almost Cthulhu Western that takes place after the world has been overrun by every work of Mr. Lovecraft’s, I had to read it.

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