The Enterprise of Death

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Author: Jesse Bullington
Genre(s): Historical, Fantasy, Horror
Publisher: Orbit
Available Formats: Trade paperback
Description: As the witch-pyres of the Spanish Inquisition blanket Renaissance Europe in a moral haze, a young African slave finds herself the unwilling apprentice of an ancient necromancer. Unfortunately, quitting his company proves even more hazardous than remaining his pupil when she is afflicted with a terrible curse. Yet salvation may lie in a mysterious tome her tutor has hidden somewhere on the war-torn continent.
She sets out on a seemingly impossible journey to find the book, never suspecting her fate is tied to three strangers: the artist Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, the alchemist Dr. Paracelsus, and a gun-slinging Dutch mercenary. As Manuel paints her macabre story on canvas, plank, and church wall, the young apprentice becomes increasingly aware that death might be the least of her concerns.
Review:
I was a huge fan of Bullington’s previous book, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, (the story follows two sadistic brothers as they murder and pillage their way through medieval Europe), because his use of brutality, humor, and sheer unadulterated perversion was throughly addictive. It spent nearly a month on my bedside table, and I’m pretty sure I must’ve read it at least two or three times. Sure, the bashed in skulls, roving cannibals, f-bombs, and copious amounts of sex and vomit (yep, Bullington finds a way to combine the two) may not be for everyone, but I honestly fell in love with those two dastardly bastards after reading the first few pages.  
So with that said, I was very excited when The Enterprise of Death finally came out. I honestly thought that it would be somewhat similar murderous romp through Europe (one that would give me plenty of nightmares), but instead it was a meandering collection of flashbacks that left me feeling rather unattached. I never felt as connected with Awa (the African Slave) as I did with the Brothers Grossbart, and Bullington honestly had difficulty with his timing. The beginning (or what feels like it) stretches on for nearly 250 pages, despite the fact that the book is only around 470 pages long. After that point, I expected the story to progress a little more quickly, but it never did. There were no interesting plot twists and no unique character developments–it actually felt like Bullington wanted this story to be much longer, but his publishers pushed him to cut it drastically. The ending just suddenly pops up, and is rather unexpected (and not in a satisfying way either). 
Overall, I was disappointed. And although I will still give Bullington the benefit of the doubt on his next book, The Enterprise of Death gets pretty low marks from me. 

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The Half-Made World

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I love the idea of the Old West. The gunslingers, the shootouts, the gut-drilling combination of whiskey and baked beans—I love it all. Felix Gilman’s “The Half-Made World” plays on everything I love about the Wild West, and then injects it with some much-needed originality: namely, dark magic and steam punk. Gunmen with possessed revolvers roam a seemingly never-ending frontier, battling locomotive monsters that live and breathe industrialization. The gunmen belong to the order of the Gun (they didn’t put much thought in their organization’s title) and they fight the engines and machines of the Line (another short and sweet title), whom are vying to bring civilization and technology to the lawless west by any means necessary.
Sadly, “Shane” could never live up to that sort of action. (And just so you know, for Western aficionados, that’s like saying John Wayne was pansy. So, I’m living on the edge here.)
The plot is original and exciting. It’s a unique twist on a well-worn concept, and it shows. Gilman spends most of the book highlighting his characters and the setting. The three main characters (John Creedmore the gunmen, Officer Lowry of the Line, and Liv the innocent psychologist) are all fleshed out completely, and reader is left with an in-depth understanding of their motives, goals, and fears.
The setting, however, is the main star of the story. Gilman loves to describe the mountains, prairies, and deserts that the characters trek through with the utmost detail—and he does a great job. The scenery really does come to life, and when the characters venture out into the maddening and undiscovered realms of the West, Gilman makes sure that the readers are well aware of why the land is truly insane—time seems to stand still, violent creatures roam about, and reality begins to slip into the realm of fantasy and the impossible. It’s exciting stuff.
Yet, the big bummer is that the book is set up for a sequel, and it feels like a let down. Gilman drones on and on about certain key world-changing facets in the plot (I wont give anything away), raises tons of questions, and then doesn’t answer them. Characters are dropped off quickly (and after spending dozens of pages through their POV while witnessing the world around them, it feels kind of hollow to leave them so quickly), things start to feel a little too hopeless in the plot, and then quicker then you can say “multi-book deal,” the story just ends.  Honestly, at times it feels like Gilman was more focused on the setting then the actual plot, and it shows by the fact that the reader is left feeling rather unfulfilled by the events in the story.
Overall, though, it’s a great book and well worth the read. 

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No Man’s World: Black Hand Gang by Pat Kelleher

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Take a battalion of World War I British soldiers (a.k.a Tommies), and put them on a hostile alien jungle planet. Then, add several dozen ravenous monsters, and a race of talking bugs with a superiority complex. Next, sprinkle a shortage of ammunition, and a psychopathic murderer that makes Jack the Riper look like Mr. Rogers, and you’ve got the general premise for Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World: Black Hand Gang. The end result is unique sci fi story that makes for a very entertaining read, and will keep you hooked for the possible sequel.
On November 1st 1916, the nine hundred men of the 13th Battalion of “The Pennine Fusiliers” are dug in on the Somme, waiting for the order to “go over the top” into an inevitable bloodbath. Without any warning, the entire battlefield (along with most the Pennines) is suddenly and unexpectedly transported to another world. The Pennnines emerge from their muddy trenches to find that their tiny section of the Western Front is smack in the middle of a primordial jungle. It isn’t long before the new arrivals attract some of the curious and rather vicious wildlife, and a bloody battle ensues.
The book is very well researched, and the reader will feel privy to the everyday going-ons of the average British Tommie in World War One. From insulting slang, to different types of trenches, as well as the uses and operations of various WWI-era weapons, Kelleher appears to have done his homework, as his British Tommies seem to be as close to the real deal as possible. 
Much of the first portion of the book is set aside to build up the situation, as well as identify the numerous characters. Readers of war narratives will be familiar to this set up, as Kelleher spends a good deal of time establishing the “brothers in arms” mentality. The characters are unfortunately not very unique – there’s the good guy soldier that everyone admires, the despicable corporal that seems to hate everyone in his unit, and the Lieutenant that doesn’t want any responsibility – the characters aren’t really what the book is about, as it is more so about the absurd setting, and how on earth (no pun intended) they got there. His description of the planet is wonderful, and for most of the book, the reader will wonder how any of these men will be able to survive. How they got there is somewhat explained during the side story of the treacherous Lieutenant named Jefferies (who displays his Manson-like characteristics early in the book), and so the theme of the occult and black magic carries on through out the story.
What readers may not like though, is that No Man’s World is set up for a sequel; so do not expect any immediate answers. In addition, the author states that his story is based on a historical occurrence, although as far as I know, there aren’t any records of anything like this ever occurring. I give No Man’s World: Black Hand Gang 7 out of 10 ray guns.

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Sci-Fi Review: Night of the Living Trekkies

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Let it be known that I, Stefan Slater, am not a fan of Star Trek. Give me a lightsaber, and I’d chop that chubby Captain Kirk in half faster than you could say “live long and prosper.” With that said however, I willingly risk my Jedi street cred’ to say that Night of the Living Trekkies is a fun read and is definitely well worth picking up—for Trekkies and Han Solo wannabes alike. Sure, if your like me, you might miss the majority of the Star Trek jokes, but any fan of Space Sagas (or Zombies) will appreciate the fanboy aspect of the novel. Plus, how could the evisceration of scores of costumed Trekkies by cannibalistic zombies ever be boring?

Written by Kevin Anderson and Sam Stall, the plot follows the exploits of Jim Pike: a former die-hard Star Trek fan who lost his desire to follow in the foot steps of Captain Kirk after two bloody tours in Afghanistan. Looking to avoid any responsibility, Jim gets a mundane job as an assistant manager at a small hotel in Houston.
Lucky for Jim, Houston hosts the annual “Gulf Con” (a convention for Star Trek Fans), so hundreds of Borgs, Klingons, Vulcans, and Captain Kirks end up staying at his hotel, complicating his ploy to bypass any sort of work. To make matters worse, during the convention there is a strange viral outbreak, and most of the fanboys and girls are transformed into the living dead. Jim then has to lead a small group of survivors—including a convention model dressed in Princess Leia’s famous metal bikini—in an attempt to escape the grisly confines of the hotel. Unfortunately, zombies are the least of Jim’s worries, as the hotel is also playing host to a terribly evil entity with aspirations for world domination, and it’s up to Jim and his rag tag band of Trekkies to save the human race from almost certain doom.
Quirk books is the publisher (they’re the same delightfully sick bunch who brought us Sense, Sensibility and Sea Monsters as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) so Night of the Living Trekkies inevitably carries with it that same feeling of humorous satire that they love so much. The humor is pretty much one giant Star Trek inside joke (like Jim yelling out “KHAN!” as he decapitates an undead Ricardo Montalban look alike), so folks completely unaware or impartial to Star Trek may be left in the dark. Space/zombie aficionados are obviously the target audience of the book.
The playful humor never really dissipates, as there are only a few serious moments, and only when they are deemed necessary. It’s a very easy, and very quick read. The plot is not all that special or original, as it’s been seen before in countless other zombie movies and books. The only really differentiating concept is the addition of the fanboy culture, which—when placed in the setting of a zombie apocalypse—makes for an amusing story. Night of the Living Trekkies is not Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, as it’s not a critical or enthralling read. Instead is a comical, lighthearted story that nerds of any age will most likely get a kick out of. 

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Let the Steampunk Zombies Roll: Review

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Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest has written a total of three books (Dreadnought,Clementine, and Boneshaker) that take place in the “Clockwork Century.” While each book contains characters and references in the other books, they can still be read independently from one another without missing the overall plot or context of the story. The protagonists of these books are all women; they are strong, independent, and above all, willing to blow away a zombie head or two.
Vinita “Mercy” Lynch is working as a nurse in a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when she learns that her husband has died in a POW camp. Then she receives a telegram from her estranged father, who is dying  in the frontier town of Seattle, and wants desperately to reconnect with her. With little else keeping her in Virginia, she embarks on the long and arduous journey to the distant Western Territories.
Priest conjures an alternate history in which the Civil War has lasted for nearly twenty long years, and slavery is no more. There are airships, steam-powered robots, and fortress-like trains capable of leveling entire forests. Oh, and there are zombies: hordes upon hordes of flesh craving, gore-covered, rotting zombies.
Mercy’s journey through the war torn Border States is fraught with danger, and she barely makes it to the Mississippi River. In St. Louis, her trip takes a turn for the worse as she boards the only train headed out west: the monstrous Union steam engine known as the Dreadnought. It supposedly carries deceased Union soldiers to their final resting places, but Mercy learns that the Dreadnought also carries a mysterious cargo, which draws considerable Confederate attention, ranging from rebel bushwhackers to diabolical mechanized walkers.
Something far worse than outlaws awaits Mercy out west, and it could spell the end for not only those aboard the Dreadnought, but also the entire United States as well.
Priest does an excellent job of balancing Mercy’s mental and physical journey. The grief of losing her husband, as well as the painful possibility of reconnecting with (and then possibly losing) her long lost father.
Dreadnought carries a sort of Steampunk vibe, and because of that, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that there are robots or flying machines, as they are all defined by technologies that existed at that time. Discussing the zombies will give away some of the plot, but her reasoning for their existence is not unbelievable, and she easily places a horror element into a sub genre that very rarely has any.

The only flaw one may find with Dreadnought is that Priest creates such a fantastic world, but only examines a small portion of it. The book reads rather quickly, and will most likely leave the reader wanting to know more.
Dreadnought is an excellent read set in a unique world that is unlike most anything in Science Fiction today.  Reading this novel will most definitely spur you to pick up another one of Cherie Priest’s books, just so you can revisit “The Clockwork Century.”
Authors after Dark has nominated Dreadnought for steampunk novel of the year.

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These Vampires Don’t Sparkle: American Vampire -Review

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Let’s face it, the vampire is no longer feared. What once was an evil, blood-sucking demon from hell, has deteriorated into a brooding, sensitive pretty-boy who pines for romance and has renounced drinking the blood of humans. Dracula would be ashamed to call himself a vampire in today’s Twilight age.
Fortunately for the pale Transylvanian, the graphic novel American Vampire not only restores a bit of much-needed attitude and maliciousness to the vampire breed, but also adds a refreshing twist.
Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, the plot of American Vampire follows the 19th century outlaw Skinner Sweet, and aspiring 1920’s actress Pearl Jones. Sweet is a ruthless, evil man, who rides with his posse across the American West robbing and killing whomever he wishes. Sweet eventually has a run-in with a group of Pinkertons, and during the ensuing struggle, is transformed into a vampire.
Read on at:

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The Rise of the Ray Gunslinger

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Mankind has been fascinated with exploring outer space for decades and also with the idea of one day, actually living on another planet.
Countless books, movies, TV shows, and games have been created to explore what life would be like for humanity in space. Oftentimes humanity is depicted as colonizing planets, meeting intelligent aliens, and discovering the secrets of the Universe – all from the comfort of advanced spaceships with sparkling white exteriors. Civilization and peace spread throughout the Universe, everyone dons a spandex uniform, and humanity is elevated to an even higher level of technological and intellectual understanding. Basically, mix a London Gentlemen’s club with lasers and green women, and you have a popular version of humanity’s potential future in space.

Read on below!

The Rise of the Ray Gunslinger

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