The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Road By Cormac McCarthy - One Of The Greatest Post-Apocalyptic Stories I Have Ever Read!

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

One morning at work, I was visiting with one of my co-workers about good books. My coworker is not a sci-fi fan, but we were discussing one of my favorite post-apocalyptic books. She asked me if I had ever read The Road, and I said I hadn't. She just told me I needed to read it and left it at that.

I bought it for the Kindle and started reading and was hooked from the first line, and I read the entire book in a day. It is one of the best books I have ever opened, and I will read it again.

It took me several pages to get into it because I was temporarily distracted by the writing style. There were no quotation marks to set the dialog apart from the prose, and no apostrophe in the contractions. The punctuation was absolutely minimalist. After a few pages, I got used to that and the text flowed well. As I think back, this aspect of the writing added to the way the story felt. 

I enjoyed this take of post-apocalyptic adventure and survival. It was terrifying, triumphant, depressing, and intense all at the same time. The relationship between the man and the boy was great and so well written. Their feelings for each other were always at the surface of the story.

A man and his young son take to the road on a journey of survival in a world that has gone all wrong. It is cold, and they follow the roads to find a more habitable place. Along the way, they run into various things that can either help or harm them. Unfortunately, there is far more that can harm them, mostly the other people, or as the boy thinks of them, the "bad guys," who will not only take what little they have for survival but will also take their lives.

The principal characters are the man and the boy. We never get their names because names are no longer important in the world of The Road. The thing that keeps them going is they are carrying "the fire," which I took as meaning the living spirit. The man is knowledgeable of the ways of survival, which he teaches to his son as they move along. The man is sick and tries to get the boy to understand they must do whatever it takes to continue living, but the boy will not set his innocence aside. He holds on to his compassion and caring for others. When the pair encounter those less fortunate than they are, the boy wants to share what they have, even when they are faced with having almost nothing for themselves. This creates a compelling dynamic between the two characters to create tension between the two.

My favorite point of the plot is how this tale unfolds with almost no background given on the characters or what created the situation they live in. One can guess what it might have been given the described conditions, but there aren't many clues how widespread the catastrophe is. Assuming this story is set in the US, there are hints that, at least, our country has been hit hard. Background on the characters is sparse and mostly as flashback scenes of the man's life before his and the boy's time on the road.

While the overall theme of the story is survival against impossible odds, there are other supporting themes. One is how one must be as ruthless as one's enemies to ensure their own survival. Another theme is how one needs to hold on to their compassion to remain human. Therein is my takeaway from The Road - no matter how bad the situation is, one should never let go of one's humanity lest we degenerate to the level of being subhuman.

I recommend The Road as one of the best stories I have ever read. As a matter of fact, I downloaded the audiobook to listen to as I drove back and forth from work, enjoying it a second time. Were I to rate all the books I have read, I would number this in at least the top ten, if not the top five greatest modern stories I have ever read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. His earlier Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time Magazine's poll of 100 best English-language books published between 1925 and 2005 and he placed joint runner-up for a similar title in a poll taken in 2006 by The New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Philip Roth. He is frequently compared by modern reviewers to William Faulkner. In 2009, Cormac McCarthy won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a lifetime achievement award given by the PEN American Center.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sandorn's Command By Thom Bedford - Fun Action Packed Military Space Opera

Sandorn's Command by Thom Bedford

I received a copy of this book for free and am leaving this review voluntarily.

Sandorn's Command is a military sci-fi space opera story following the exploits of Tanic Sandorn during a time when war breaks out between two factions in the galaxy. It is an original story that has flavors from several various influences in science fiction and are brought together in a well written, entertaining, and intriguing story that will - I hope - become a series of novels. I learned about this tale when the author contacted me via email, inviting me to review his work. It is an easy book to read and unfolds as a film might and is told mostly from Sandorn's point of view.

Tanic Sandorn commands his small shuttle as it plies among the stars delivering items between planets and space stations. An accident aboard his vessel, the Kadpass, forces him to put in at Exeter Station, a huge orbital space station in where goods and services are offered. The station also hosts a military contingent from the predominant governing body of its area of space known as the Combined Systems Alliance.

Sandorn and his crew of three disembark their ship to Exeter, where they enjoy the amenities while their shuttle undergoes repairs. They soon learn that another opposing faction, the Free Planetary Union, is making headway as they bid to overthrow the Alliance. The Alliance's resources and personnel are wearing thin as the Union continues to gain strength while taking over in system after system.

Sandorn, a former officer in the Alliance Navy, is reinstated at his former rank of commander if he will serve. After some soul-searching, he rejoins the Navy, and two of his three crewmembers - one he has an intimate relationship with - also sign on. The fourth member of the crew refuses the offer and has sympathies for the Union.

When it is known the Union has a fleet headed for Exeter, preparations are made and plans are drawn up for a defense. The Alliance need a decisive victory against the Union. Exeter Station could be an immense turning point in the war for dominance in the galaxy.

I enjoyed the characters in Sandorn's Command. They are all very human, with strengths and weaknesses that brought them to life for me and quickly became people I could care about. Sandorn himself is a person I want to get to know better. He is a good person who knows his business and understands his role as a commander. As a civilian, Sandorn is a laid-back character who is enjoying life as a shuttle commander with his small crew, but when the time comes for him to step up and command, he does so with an even-handedness that immediately endeared him to me. He is of good character and believes himself to be on the right side of the conflict.

Sandorn is surrounded by characters who enjoy various degrees of development depending on their importance to the story. There is still a lot of character development to be made as the saga continues in future stories, which I am looking forward to with great enthusiasm.

Nearly every character in this story is heroic, but they aren't looking to be so. They are just doing their jobs as best they can, using what little they have to work with.

My favorite point of plot is very short, it almost seems insignificant considering the surrounding action taking place. But it is something I cannot get out of my mind after reading, and I think it will be a huge part of future installments.

The Story is told from the Alliance point of view, so far. We really learn little about the Union in this opening novel, but there is a point that some doubt is cast when Sandorn visits with the former shuttle crewmember. Maybe all isn't what it appears to be, and the Union isn't all wrong in their goals for unseating the Alliance as the dominant governing body in the galaxy.

That particular plot point haunts me and I really want to learn more.

My takeaway from Sandorn's Command is to beware of what one believes. Beliefs aren't facts, and there are always three sides to every story. In this case, there is the Alliance's story, the Union's story, and somewhere in between, there is the truth. We have yet to get the Union story, and the truth is clouded for the time being.

The themes in this book have many influences of the author’s fandoms, and it really moves the story along. I recognized elements borrowed from many of my own favorite franchises, making this book a fun and interesting read. I didn't want to set it aside for even a minute and was disappointed only in that it had to come to an end.

Sandorn's Command is a great story with familiar themes, but done in an original way that is comforting to read. It is full of fast-paced action, good character development, leaving room for future discovery. I recommend this book as fine sci-fi for any fan, particularly those who love space opera, as I do. I also think that anyone would enjoy this book, sci-fi fan or not. It isn't overly cluttered with jargon or difficult technical things to veil an outstanding story.

My highest recommendations for an immensely entertaining read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thom grew up in Cheshire, England, with his parents and brother. Since childhood, he has had a propensity for creativity, whether it be writing, building models, painting, designing graphics and technology, or programming.

After studying computer science at The University of Manchester, he started working as a Software Developer. Following in his father's footsteps, he worked as a Technical consultant in London for several years, then in data warehousing back in Manchester.

In his spare time, Thom still writes, builds models, paints, and programs, but nowadays he also listens to a lot of music, watches a lot of films, reads, and enjoys playing video games.

His love for science fiction comes from blockbuster films like Starship Troopers, Star Wars, and Star Trek. B-movies like Wing Commander, Pitch Black, and Iron Sky. TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Expanse, and Stargate. Video games like Homeworld, EVE-Online, and Stelaris. Books Like Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series, Jasper T. Scott's Dead Space series, and David Weber's Honor Harrington series. In other words, sci-fi - particularly space opera - in any media.

Thom currently lives in Cheshire, England with his wife, Helen, and their two cats.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Deathly Waters: Harper's Landing (Occult America Book 1) By Shoshana Edwards - A Superior Horror/Occult Story Set In The Midwest

Deathly Waters: Harper's Landing (Occult America Book 1) by Shoshana Edwards

I discovered this novel through my association with the author via social media. 

Shoshana released the third in book in this series under the title Easy as Pie. So, when I saw there were two previous installments in the series, I dove in with both feet to read Deathly Waters. It is a story about a sleepy little town in the Midwest featuring some bizarre events taking place. I loved the setting and the characters, but what I most enjoyed is the dialog in the story. Shoshana is a master at bringing characters to life and they were all people very much like those I have known. As far as the town of Harper's Landing is concerned, her description of the place and the people make me want to visit there again, and I would not be opposed to living there despite the danger lurking in the wells, lakes, and ponds in the area.

I found this story believable, easily accessible, well researched, and entertaining.

Harper's Landing is a peaceful town where the residents enjoy a laid-back lifestyle where everyone gets along well and supports each other in difficult times. The town is alive and growing slowly and has a personality all its own. The people of Harper's landing are friendly and open to strangers, giving it a welcoming atmosphere where visitors often feel compelled to take up residence permanently. One such member of the community is former big-city police detective Jim Burch, who took on the role of town's sheriff following the death of his predecessor.

Jim enjoys being a part of the community. He especially the enjoys food from the diner and the apple pie in particular. All is well until a dismembered body turns up in one of the local fishing holes. He will need every bit of his instincts and training to solve the mystery and must accept paranormal explanations to understand what is happening around the community. It won't be easy, but he has the support of the people in Harper's Landing to back him up along the way.

The most developed character in the story is Sheriff Jim Burch. He came to Harper's Landing as a tourist, seeking a place to rest from a brief career as a detective, where things weren't going well for him. During a stop at the local diner, he discovered the best apple pie he had ever eaten, accompanied by a wedge of cheddar cheese. When he was told the town had recently lost their sheriff, he surprised himself by volunteering to take on the position without even thinking about it. Satisfied he had done the right thing, he soon found himself fitting in as a member of the community as though born there. During his tenure, he grows into someone who has learned "the meaning of community, of compassion, of caring, and of love." Jim became a real person to me and is someone I wish I could know.

The other character in the novel I enjoyed was the town of Harper's Landing itself. It isn't often I read a story where the setting becomes a living character to me. There is one other author I can think of that does this as well as Shoshana, and that is Stephen King. The town has a unique personality that seems to attract people needed to take care of business. Everyone in Harper's Landing fits into their place. It has a palpable vitality. Even with the danger, I found the town a comforting place to spend time. The setting is written so well, I couldn't wait to get back there to continue reading.

My favorite point of plot in Deathly Waters is how well everyone worked together as various situations presented themselves. Everyone had a part to play, and they did so with care and compassion. Even when things are their darkest, everyone continues to do their part to contribute to the whole.

My takeaways from Deathly Waters are...

Be aware, no matter how calm things seem on the surface, there may be insatiable evil lurking just below the calmness. Be careful and take a long look before you dive in.


A piece of superb apple pie may seem like just a piece of pie, but it might also be your key to happiness. Slow down and take in your surroundings.

I loved this story. It has excellent characters, a pleasant setting, and the story moves at a good pace. There was never a point at which I was taken out of the story for any reason. There was also some tension along the way as the characters moved in and out of danger, but for every moment of stress, there was relief. Shoshana did her homework to make the story feel authentic. There were a few descriptions of some graphic details, but they were not over-the-top with gore, and were appropriate to advance the story.

While the niche it fits into is Horror Occult Fiction, there are several elements of Science Fiction involved in the investigative procedures used.

All in all, I would recommend Deathly Waters to anyone who enjoys a well-paced, fun, and entertaining story. I look forward to reading future work from Shoshana Edwards, including the second book in the Occult America series, Madness of Trees, as well as the third, Easy as Pie. Here's a tip though, I heard Shoshana recommend reading Easy as Pie first.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shoshana Edwards is a retired teacher and jury consultant. She lives in suburban Oregon, west of Portland, where she and her husband tend a lush rose garden, grow their own vegetables, and enjoying reading and board games. The Occult America series is Shoshana's first venture into the mystery/horror genre, and she admits to loving every minute of it.

Well, there it is...


Sunday, September 4, 2022

The Lazarus Men: A Lazarus Men Agenda By Christian Warren Freed - A Fun Story About A Guy Who Was In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time

The Lazarus Men by Christian Warren Freed

I received a copy of this book for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

I was attracted to this book because of the cover art and the blurb. It appeared to be something I might enjoy, and indeed I did, with a reservation.

The Lazarus Men is a good, solid story with numerous twists and turns. It opens with some good action, and after a lull in the middle, it closes with some fast-paced battle scenes. Among the author's strengths are the characters. I found myself invested in the principal character from the start and he held my interest for the entire novel. I hoped he would make it to the end, and it never appeared certain he would. Along with the principal, there were several other characters, all well-defined and made to seem real. The world building was adequate for the story, and I enjoyed the descriptions of the settings.

The story was clearly written mostly, but there is one area I found disturbing, and it tended to take me out of the flow of the text. More on that later.

It was just another shift on the job for Gerald LaPlant, that is, until his employer called him in and promoted him for his prior service. And that was the last good thing that happened to him for quite some time. Unfortunately, he witnessed a murder and lost his wallet. Those who perpetrated the murder began stalking him and even came close to taking him out. See, the murdered man placed an object in his pocket before he died. An object of some importance to two of the most powerful people in the galaxy.

To save his own life, he fled to Mars, where he was followed.

Next thing Gerald knows is he cannot shake those after him. And what's worse, nearly everyone he encounters is after the object. His friends aren't really his friends, his enemies aren't necessarily his enemies, and poor Gerald does not know who he can trust, other than himself.

What is this object and why is it so important?

Principal character, Gerald LaPlant is an ordinary guy. He works and goes home. When he gets caught up in a world of intrigue, he is forced to go on the run. Confused and scared, he runs into a lot of other characters. Those he meets all have an ulterior motive because he has a key to a treasure beyond imagination. He came by the key when he witnessed a murder when it was placed in his possession without his knowledge. On his travels to other worlds, he meets an attractive archaeologist, a man he thought was his friend, and more than a few ruthless killers, as well as the masterminds who want to get their hands on the vast treasure to be found on the planet Cestus III. He is just a good guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if he is not very careful, he will lose his life.

My favorite point of plot in The Lazarus Men is how the principal character seems unable to find allies in this story until he does find two. The ones he finds are the most unlikely people to be his friends. I loved this twist and the nature of the two people who help him because they are enemies and in competition until they decide to cooperate. Great irony there.

My takeaway from this tale is that when one holds the key to hidden wealth, one cannot trust anyone. Not everyone who is nice to you is your friend, and not everyone who is a threat to you are your enemies. Be careful how you choose your friends and keep your enemies close.

I found The Lazarus Men a great story full of twists and turns and is a fine sci-fi adventure one can get into. As I mentioned before, there is one thing that needs to be fixed in the book's text, and that is all the typos that appear through the whole thing.

I read enough that in nearly every book, I tend to find one or two typographical errors along the way, and mostly, I ignore them. It happens. If I know the author, I usually let them know I found them. Unfortunately, there are many in The Lazarus Men that interrupted the flow of the reading, and I had to stop and try to understand what the author meant to say. For this reason, I find I must give it a lower rating than it would otherwise deserve. With the copy I received being the third edition, I am a little disappointed the mistakes haven't been corrected at by now.

It is a great story that needs to be looked at by a copy editor.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Christian W. Freed was born in Buffalo, N.Y. more years ago than he would like to remember. After spending more than 20 years in the active-duty US Army he has turned his talents to writing. Since retiring, he has gone on to publish over 25 military fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as his memoirs from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, a children's book, and a pair of how to books focused on indie authors and the decision making process for writing a book and what happens after it is published.

His first published book (Hammers in the Wind) has been the #1 free book on Kindle 4 times and he holds a fancy certificate from the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Ok, so it was for 4th place in one quarter, but it's still recognition from the largest fiction writing contest in the world. And no, he's not a scientologist.

Passionate about history, he combines his knowledge of the past with modern military tactics to create an engaging, quasi-realistic world for the readers. He graduated from Campbell University with a degree in history and a Master of Arts degree in Digital Communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He currently lives outside of Raleigh, N.C. and devotes his time to writing, his family, and their two Bernese Mountain Dogs. If you drive by you might just find him on the porch with a cigar in one hand and a pen in the other. You can find out more about his work by following him on social media.

Well, there it is...


Saturday, September 3, 2022

Home on Derange by David Gerrold - Thirty Stories Designed To Be Entertaining And Perhaps Disturbing

Home on Derange by David Gerrold

I purchased Home on Derange directly from the author and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

In the introduction to this volume, David Gerrold writes:

"I suppose you are entitled to a warning.

"This is it.

"None of these stories are meant to be taken seriously."

He then proceeds to explain how the thirty entries in this anthology came into existence.

Home on Derange is a collection of thirty stories or other writings intended to be fun, and they most certainly are. It is a book full of varied speculations on life moving from the mundane into the extreme through the masterful use of language. If you enjoy reading tales with a twist, here is a book full of them. I found these stories so rich, I couldn't read them one right after the other. After almost every story, I had to set the book aside because my mind needed time to wrap itself around what I had read.

While I enjoyed every story in this book, I found a few favorites that stood out to me.

The first story is entitled "The Great Pan American Airship Mystery." A group of high-powered personalities take a trip on a passenger blimp across the United States. In their midst, there may be a threat as they discuss the more macabre aspects of their business.

Another of my favorites is "Crystallization." It is a look at a major city's problem of freeway gridlock if taken to the extreme. If you live in a rural area, this one will make you glad you do.

"The Kennedy Enterprise" is a speculation on what might have happened if the Kennedy family had gotten involved in Hollywood instead of entering politics. I found this one the most fun as I pictured JFK the way he was described. I couldn't help but laugh.

Those three represent only ten percent of what is contained in Home on Derange.

My takeaways from Home on Derange are twofold.

As a reader, I loved all the plot twists and swerves I found in this collection. These stories are all on the fringe and each one is bizarre. It is always nice to get away from serious sci-fi for a short time and enjoy something different. I found this an entertaining volume I will read again because there is so much to be found in those pages.

As an aspiring writer, I was mesmerized at the use of language. According to the author, every story, every chapter, every paragraph, and every sentence should be surprising to the reader. I loved the way he used the language to paint pictures of situations I found the characters.

Home on Derange is a marvelous collection of stories to read for fun and entertainment, as well as a diversion from life. If you're down, these stories will help one appreciate that no matter how bad one's own situation may be, it could be worse. A lot worse. They are all masterfully written and easy to digest a little at a time. It is not designed to be read from cover to cover in a single sitting. Each vignette is intended to be savored individually.

If you enjoy speculative fiction in small bites, this one is for you.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

David Gerrold lives in California with his son, daughter-in-law, and his toddler grandson. He is the winner of numerous awards for his writing. You can follow him on Facebook or through his Patreon page. He is a self-described curmudgeon, and you are highly advised not to tread on his lawn.

Well, there it is...


Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Relatives by Billy White - A Great First Novel From Canada!

The Relatives by Billy White

I received an advance review copy of the book for free and am leaving this review voluntarily.

The Relatives is a sci-fi novel in the sub-genre of colonization. It is very well written with good characters one can relate to, or perhaps even recognize. The world-building suffices to set the story in.

I will admit, it took me a little time at the beginning to get invested in the story. After the first few chapters of exposition, I got into the meat of the story because of the characters and their various individual agendum that carried the story forward at a detailed, moderate pace. For what the tale is about, I found this book relaxing to read, but it was also disturbing in several elements of the story that paralleled recent events. The writing style is to show the story through the actions of the characters, but the action doesn't explode off the page. I enjoyed this style of writing and enjoyed this book.

***Spoilers Ahead***

When a philosophical rift developed on Earth between the leader, known as the Singular Sovereign and the head of a corporation who seeks to colonize other worlds, there are three ships dispatched to a planet suitable for colonization. One ship makes it, another remains in Earth orbit, and another is wandering through deep space.

Move forward to the year 2408. The colony has prospered and is being led by a man named Jordan Graham. He takes a chance and sends a message to the two ships that didn't arrive. The message is received by the wandering ship, and they make their way to join the colony. There is just one small problem: the passengers are infected with a disease called the Shakes. Eager to join the colony, they leave out they are infected and proceed to the colony in a return message.

When they arrive, there is much consternation in Graham's government about the possibility the plague is contagious and will destroy the colony. His solution is to isolate the people on the ship from the colony while others want to learn how this plague was started, and who was responsible. There are also those in the colony who would like to find a cure, and still others who believe it is time for a change in leadership.

Graham, who reserves sole rule over the colony, makes some decisions that have dire consequences. Then when an armada arrives from earth, there could be even more disastrous results if Graham's plan is carried out.

As I mentioned before, what appealed to me were the characters and their development in The Relatives.

Jordan Graham is the narcissistic, charismatic leader of the colony. He is surrounded by advisors who try to advise him, but mostly they are a group of yes-men. If someone has the gall to disagree with him, they will be sacked and shunned. Jordan is very popular amongst many in the colony, but there are those who feel that he, and his relatives time has passed, and it is time to elect a new government. Jordan is quite taken with himself and believes he is infallible. He pays a lot of attention to his appearance and knows how to work a crowd. He has no empathy for others and has no qualms about removing problem people from his scope, should the need arise.

My favorite character was a young woman from the wandering ship, Janey Allen. She is a somewhat naive girl who had known no other life than being aboard the ship. She enjoys cooking for people and is quite accomplished at doing so. When she arrives on the planet, she is full of wonder and comprehends what planet-life can be like, and she enjoys it, including the discovery of a budding relationship with a member of the colony. She is a bright spot in this tale. Unfortunately, her story also is tragic when the plague is discovered.

Gus and Call are two young men in the colony who have graduated to adulthood. They are playful and have fun, but soon learn there is more to life than having fun. They quickly learn how things work on the colony through their experience and begin to believe there needs to be change.

Lorena is a stenographer who has the lofty goal of being in a relationship with Jordan until she learns what he is actually like. She takes it upon herself to investigate the shadier happenings on the colony and is appalled at the things she finds. Her adventures are a series of discoveries that leads her to oppose Jordan, and she finds her opposition carries consequences.

Other characters included in the story are all well written and contribute in various ways to building a complete picture of life under Graham rule.

My favorite point of plot for The Relatives is how it made me think about recent world events and how so much is has been mishandled. The parallels are veiled, but also astoundingly clear, if the reader pays attention. For me, as a reader, this tale is a warning, and I think it will clearly reveal itself as one reads.

My takeaway from The Relatives is to be careful of charismatic leaders who do not have empathy for others. It is important that one who leads believes they are the best person for the job, but they also must remember they are not without human flaw and need to remember the needs of the people they lead. There are no uncomplicated answers when one leads a large population, and those who do must tap into their empathy to be effective.

Another theme that presented itself to me is hard decisions must be carefully considered. There is no room for knee-jerk reactions that hurt people. 

I loved The Relatives for many reasons. I enjoyed the relaxed, moderate pacing as the story unfolded. After a long day, it was nice to just sit down and read a well-written entertaining story that wasn't too much "in-your-face." The characters are interesting and are developed to the point they could be real people. I could hear the voice as they spoke, and each one was an individual with a well thought out personality and backstory. There are characters in this to like, and those to dislike, and they play off each other in fascinating ways. The story unfolds logically and steadily and is easy to understand and follow. I found myself immersed in this and wanted to read on and on.

The Relatives is a story that is complete in itself, not part of a series. I look forward to more of the author's work in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Billy White’s novels include The Relatives (and nothing else—for now!). Billy is a soon-to-be lawyer, meandering giraffe, and novelist, who resides in Toronto, Canada.

Well, there it is...


Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Controlled by P.J. Willett - What Happens When Schools Go Corporate? Find Out In This Great Debut Novel!

The Controlled by P.J. Willett

I received a copy of this book for free and am leaving this review voluntarily.

Now and then, one reads a book that delves into their very being and creates nightmares. The Controlled is one of those books. This one gets me on two levels. First, as a sci-fi reader, I found this a terrifying story where technology goes wrong and creates a group of relentless monsters who unwillingly want to destroy everything and everyone in their path. However, as a teacher in a public school, it hit me on a different level. This tale is a metaphor for the direction I see education taking; instead of letting those of us who are trained to teach do our jobs, it is the oversight of school boards, parents, and legislatures who want it done their way, even though most haven't even been in a classroom since they graduated from high school.

Now I must apologize because I digress. My view on schools is a subject for another time and place.

This tale definitely scared me as an educator because there is nothing more frightening to a teacher than the concept of the inmates taking charge of the asylum.

From the opening line, I was hooked on this story, not just because it involved my chosen profession, but because it is a well-written story full of swerves and one never knows what will happen on the turn of the next page. It is gritty and graphic; descriptions of violence and its aftermath are plainly shown in the prose and, in themselves, are disturbing.

Be warned, even though this story is about high school-aged students, it is NOT a young adult novel.

Welcome to Rego Ed Site 102 operated by the Rego Corporation.

In the near future, schools will be turned over to corporations and trusted to clean up the mess schools are supposedly in everywhere. Schools are referred to as "sites," and students have become "clients" to receive a much trimmed down curriculum of English, Math, Fundamental Values, and Occupational Preparation. Clients are not divided by grade level, but by how well they perform in school in four levels. There are high, medium, and low performers and at the lowest level are the "subs." Subs are the ones who are incorrigible. They are lacking in respect for any system, and they have deep-seated behavioral problems. Subs are, in a word, rebellious.

Rego's solution to helping the suns integrate into society as useful, contributing citizens is the creation of an app (called CTRL) designed to modify behaviors through a device called a "Halo." The Halo is a VR headset that is used to pacify clients with video such as "The Woodland Parable," an animated depiction of pleasant, calming woodland creatures going about their daily lives. Site directors claim they have had much success with this method of training, but that is the company line all employees (a.k.a. teachers/administrators) are required to repeat of asked.

At some point, something goes wrong with the app and clients go on a rampage of behaviors above and beyond what they have displayed before, and are powerless to stop themselves when in the grips of the app.

The story unfolds through following several principal characters. We get snapshots of their personal lives and then we see how their strengths, or weaknesses, fit into the big picture. Each character has his/her own quirks and things they need to suppress when on the job, which is difficult for some.

Dickie is the CEO (superintendent) of the site. His job is to deal directly with Rego and see to daily operations. He is a nervous sort that no one seems to take seriously. He is arrogant and condescending and is completely out of touch with what is happening on his site.

Sophie is the General Manager (principal) of the site and oversees the teachers and discipline issues. She has a bad home life, but is genuinely wanting to educate clients, but she isn't happy about the way it is currently being handled.

Tom is a teacher who has been traumatized and is returning to work after a long period of recovery from an incident that threatened his career. He is unsure of himself and nervous about the new teaching methods.

Dean and Ren are two clients who are considered subs, but they are not under the control of the CTRL app or have the ability to not be affected by it as others are. They like each other, but Dean has relationship problems. As you read, you will get to know these characters best.

Each character has their own chapter to make their acquaintance and better understand how they think and act.

My favorite point of plot for The Controlled is the focus on each character in their own chapter. Each one is a nearly complete picture of their lives outside of the site and who they are as real people. This technique of writing is one of my favorites because we get a lot of backstory in a small space, and the other chapters allow the author to tell the rest of the story using the unique points of view of the people involved.

Another plot point I enjoyed was the spiraling down into the depths. When I first started reading, I thought I was reading a comedy. I love British humor and the opening chapters struck me as having a tongue-in-cheek feel to them. As the prose moved along, it gradually became darker, with each scene revealing just how serious the whole affair was.

One thing I also noted was how the author focused more on the characters than the sci-fi elements. There isn't a lot of jargon to get through and the purity of the tale is preserved.

My takeaway from this story is to think one can control others are in for a huge disappointment, especially if one is trying to modify behaviors. Education has tried for decades to modify undesirable behaviors and have tried nearly everything, including drugs, with some, but limited success. Perhaps the focus on engaging students by taking the individual into account might be more successful.

Another takeaway is that education should be left to the professionals. Those with the training and understanding might do a better job if they are supported and trusted to do so.

Even though it was a terrifying story to me, I enjoyed it immensely. It is a real page turner that includes a plethora of plot twists and turns that were a delight. The Controlled is a great first novel and I look forward to further work from this author. Again, I will say that this story is not for youngsters. It is full of graphic scenes of violence and injuries to characters. The characters use a lot of language that many will consider inappropriate. None of those points are gratuitous in nature, they are necessary for illustrating the attitudes of the characters. If you can handle those sorts of things, I think one will enjoy this book.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

P.J. Willett is a British born author based in Birmingham. He's been a teacher of Drama, English, and Mats for fifteen years and has written columns for a variety of sports publications for a number of years.

The Controlled is his debut novel - inspired by his years attending and teaching in depraved schools, and his love for science fiction and horror.

Well, there it is...