Zombies vs. Robots: No Man’s Land by Jeff Conner

Zombies Vs. Robots(Cover picture courtesy of PREVIEWSworld.)

Book #5 in IDW’s shambling series of original Zombies vs Robots prose collections. Fully illustrated by the fantabulous Fabio Listrani, this new anthology features fresh tales of rotting flesh and rusting metal, undead unrest and mechanical mayhem. Once again IDW expands the apocalyptic hellscape of its unique signature franchise. A world where brain-eaters roam and warbots rule is truly a No Man’s Land.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy of this book through NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

I normally would have never given an anthology like this a second glance.  But I was invited to by the publisher so I figured I had nothing to lose.  If I’m honest, I thought the whole thing sounded kind of stupid but I’ve always tried to keep an open mind about literature so I gave it a try anyway.

Am I glad I did?  Well I haven’t exactly found my new favourite series but at the same time I’m glad I gave this book a chance.  It wasn’t as awful as I was expecting it to be.  Instead, there were some very intelligent, believable and well-written stories about a world where zombies roam and robots meant to protect people from said zombies have gone rogue.  This isn’t a random collection of individual story threads like the disastrous V-Wars anthology was, thankfully.  No, each story picks up where the other one left off in the narrative of the zombie takeover and robot intervention.  In the beginning there are stories when zombies are just starting to become a threat and by the end we’re in a fully post-apocalyptic time.

Most of the stories were very well-written.  Others could have been better, but there were no stories that truly stood out as bad.  The pacing is very good for most of them and the overall plot arc is fast-paced.  This isn’t the sort of book you’ll race to read in one sitting, but it is good enough to keep you reading for a while to find out what’s going to happen next in this world where zombies and robots roam.

The characters were generally well fleshed-out.  There were some pretty stereotypical characters (like the ditzy girls in one story) but overall the characters were believable and changed as much as can be expected in the course of a short story.  None of the characters stood out as truly memorable for me, but that may be more of a personal thing than an issue with the writing.

If you think the idea behind this anthology sounds interesting, I’d say go for it!  It’s not the type of book I’m really into but for the right audience this could be a great thrill ride.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Anthology: Tales of Ancient Rome by S. J. A. Turney

Tales of Ancient Rome by S. J. A. Turney(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A collection of bite-size stories of varying styles all based in the world of ancient Rome. 12 tales of the ancient world, plus a bonus tale to finish.

The second edition contains two new tales not told in the 1st. Laugh, cry and shudder at:

Hold The Wall – Hadrian’s wall in the last days of the western empire
Vigil – A comedic tale of firefighting in Rome
*NEW* Rudis – A champion gladiator fights his last fight
*NEW* The Discovery – A Roman trader makes a surprising find in distant China
The man who bought an Empire – The lowest point of Imperial succession
Trackside seats – A slave helps his blind master at the circus
How to run a latifundium – A cautionary tale of estate management
A Reading – What does the future hold in Judea?
Exploratores – Trajan’s scouts on the trail of Dacian warriors
With a pinch of salt – A comedic tale of food in Claudius’ Rome
The Palmyrene Prince – Rome’s eastern border tells grim tales
Temple Trouble – A tale of the early days of Fronto (of the Marius’ Mules series)
Bonus tale: Aftermath in the Ludus – A fun finish.

As you guys probably know from my reviews I don’t actually read all that many anthologies. They’re just usually not my thing unless they’re from a writer I really love.  Still, I decided to download Tales of Ancient Rome for free on Amazon one day because I figured I had nothing to lose and at least something to gain.  I mean, I love ancient Rome.

So overall, how was the anthology?  Pretty good, actually.  Turney managed to span quite a few different periods of time in the Roman Empire, from the reign of Claudius to the last days of the empire as it was being torn apart by invaders and civil wars.  I always like a little variety in an anthology and this one certainly delivered in that respect.

Most of the stories were pretty solid.  They’re quite short but they’re nice little slices of Roman life.  We have everything from the viewpoints of foreign princes to slaves and each character has a distinct outlook on life.  Some stories are more humourous than others but pretty much all of them are interesting.  One of my favourites was Rudis, the tale of the gladiator in his very last fight before his freedom because the ending was so unexpected.  He was a fascinating character, even though he didn’t get much page time.  Temple Trouble was laugh out loud hilarious and it actually makes me want to read the full length series in which that character features.  He would certainly get into some interesting situations!  There were some weak stories like Ludus but most stories were pretty good.

As for historical accuracy, I was quite impressed.  Turney knows his stuff and all of the little details he puts into his writing makes it better.  He has a good grasp of the wide span of Roman history and although it would be a little hard to orient yourself if you’re not familiar with Roman history, I quite enjoyed the stories because I picked out little clues as to the time period.  If you know sort of a general outline of Roman history you should be fine with Tales of Ancient Rome but if you’re a newcomer I wouldn’t recommend the anthology.

Basically, Tales of Ancient Rome (Volume 1) was a solid anthology.  It wasn’t the best I’ve ever read and there were some weaker aspects to it but overall I was quite impressed.  I certainly got more than my money’s worth out of it and I’d recommend it to my fellow Roman history enthusiasts.  Best of all, it’s free as a Kindle or Nook ebook.

I give this anthology 4.5/5 stars.

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Short Story: Cursed by Treachery by Luciana Cavallaro

Accursed Women by Luciana CavallaroAll Medousa wanted was a life of love and acceptance but one fateful night it changed. While she’s alone in the Temple of Athene tending to the sacred fire, Poseidon pays a visit. No human can stop an immortal from taking what they want.

[Full disclosure: As a thank you for reviewing her four previous short stories, Luciana Cavallaro sent me the paperback Accursed Women as a thank you.  I was not expected to review Cursed by Treachery and as always this review is honest.]

The thing I like most about all of Luciana Cavallaro’s short stories is the level of detail she goes into.  She doesn’t just rehash the common re-tellings of myths that we’ve all heard here in the Western hemisphere.  She actually goes to different source material and tells quite a refreshing version of famous Greek myths.  In this story, for example, Medousa is the daughter of Titans.  That’s not a detail you find in the more common version of this myth.

All of the short stories in the Accursed Women anthology are unique in the way they’re told.  In Cursed by Treachery we see things from Perseus’ viewpoint and that’s interrupted by flashes of Medousa’s life as a Gorgon and her old life as a priestess in Athena’s temple.  It’s a fascinating way to tell Medousa’s tragic story and you would think it would be confusing but it isn’t.  We slowly learn how Medousa came to be a priestess in Athena’s temple and the horrible events that led to Athena cursing her for something that was hardly her fault.

Was Medousa’s tale my absolute favourite story in the whole anthology?  Not really.  But it’s a testament to the strength of Luciana Cavallaro’s writing that I still enjoyed it while learning something new.  It’s a well-written short story with interesting subject matter and a very interesting ending.  What more can you ask for?

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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Anthology: Forbidden Future by The Masquerade Crew

Forbiden Future by The Masquerade Crew(Cover picture courtesy of Masquerade Tours.)

What becomes of mankind in the future? Is life better or worse?

Forbidden Future by James Wymore
When a time machine technician working the graveyard shift gets divorce papers from his wife, he decides it’s time to take the machine for a ride—no matter the consequences.

Jump by Jon Bradbury
Jesse Kendall thinks he’s seen it all. He’s about to see more.

Road Trip by Matt Mitrovich
Four friends drive to a college party and take an unexpected detour into the future.

Cacotopia by James Lauren
Kayne Adamson went into suspension to await a cure, but never imagined how long his sleep would last or the world he would awaken into. Is it really the utopia it first appears to be?

Society by Terra Harmony
Take a ride on the Energy of the Future where society gets a fresh, clean start—no matter who they have to leave behind.

The Mountains Haven’t by Kade Anderson
Something is very wrong in the downtrodden town of Dignity and only the town’s Watcher, Julia, can see what it is.

Between Utopias by Michael Trimmer
After being saved from a fatal heart attack by being transported to the future, David must choose from two opposite utopias.

[Full disclosure: I have had a close working relationship with The Masquerade Crew and its leader, Mark Lee, for a year.  I was going to become one of the editors of this anthology until circumstances not under my control interfered and I had to drop out.  With that said, this review is, as always, honest.]

I’m not a big anthology reader, but I really did love this one.  For one, I love science fiction and secondly I do love a good short story.  And believe me, there are some awesome short stories in here.

I’ll be totally predictable and say that my personal favourite was the anthology’s namesake: Forbidden Future.  The main character was well-developed and interesting and the future he was thrust into was somewhat believable.  And the ending was tragic and yet hilarious, but I can’t explain too much or that would spoil the awesome surprise.  I won’t critique each short story, but on the whole I could relate to the characters and the futures were interesting.  It’s hard to fit a whole new future into just a short story, but these authors were pretty awesome and managed to achieve it.  Some futures were fantastic, others terrifying.  There was a good balance in the selection of the stories because no two really predicted similar futures.

The one thing I had a gripe with was the editing.  This is The Masquerade Crew’s first anthology and some of the editing was, admittedly, a little rough.  There were basic typographical errors that should have been caught and I’m hoping they’ll be corrected in any subsequent editions.  I don’t think there were enough to really distract from the story, but they are there and they are noticeable.

There’s a little something for everyone in Forbidden Future.  There’s stories that get very technical for those fans of hard science fiction, but there’s also more character-driven stories for people like me who don’t necessarily understand a great deal of science.  Yet in all the stories the main characters are interesting and characterization certainly wasn’t sacrificed in the world-building process.  Each author had an unique voice and so did their characters.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the anthology.  It never really had a weak story that I just wanted to skip through; all of the stories here were pretty strong.  I look forward to future anthologies by The Masquerade Crew.  And with the anthology on sale on Amazon for $.99 until December 7th, where can you go wrong?

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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*Unavailable

V-Wars by Jonathon Maberry

V-Wars by Jonathon Maberry(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

A sweeping, threaded narrative of the global phenomenon known as the Vampire Wars! Mankind is silently infected by a millennia-old bacteria unknowingly exhumed by a scientific expedition in Antarctica. Now, in some rare cases, a person’s so-called “junk DNA” becomes activated, and depending on their racial and ethnic heritage they begin to manifest one of the many diverse forms of the “others” that are the true basis for the legends of supernatural creatures. These aren’t your usual vampires and werewolves – it goes much deeper than that. Conceived by Jonathan Maberry, V Wars features stories from various “frontlines” as reported by such contributors as Nancy Holder, Yvonne Navarro, James A. Moore, Gregory Frost, John Everson, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Scott Nicholson (as well as Maberry himself, of course). The result is a compelling series of tales that create a unique chronicle of mankind’s response to this sudden, hidden threat to humanity.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

As much as I hate to compare the two books, there really is only one way to describe V-Wars: a poorly done vampire version of World War Z.

At first I absolutely loved the idea of Jonathon Maberry compiling stories from other authors and weaving them together to create a narrative of a vampire outbreak.  I mean, it’s Jonathon Maberry!  He did zombies so well in Dust & Decay that I was sure V-Wars was going to be a hit.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the main thing that frustrated me was not so much the premise but the fact that I kept asking myself while reading: Could there possibly be a more complicated way to tell this story?!  We actually follow the stories of quite a few characters but the table of contents seems to have been drawn up by a child picking story names randomly out of a hat.  The vampire virus came out of Antarctica from a scientific expedition but we only actually meet the people who started the outbreak at the end of the novel.  There is neither rhyme nor reason to the chronology or when a new character would pop up to tell their story.  Or their stories would end randomly and we never heard from them again.

This lack of a logical timeline certainly affected my enjoyment of the story.  Sure, some of the characters were compelling, but others were just plain boring.  Besides, it’s hard to actually connect with characters when they randomly disappear, are forgotten, or barely get any page time at all.  Michael Fayne would have been interesting if his story was told in a more linear fashion and I suppose Ruksana was compelling, but again there’s the seemingly random order of the stories messing everything up.  This book is only 384 pages and yet I felt like I was reading a 1000+ page book where the novelist has decided to include the viewpoints of a cast of characters worthy of George R. R. Martin.

Due to the illogical ordering, I really had a hard time getting into V-Wars.  Some stories were fast-paced and others were unbearably dull.  It was sort of like getting an old car to start on a cold morning: just when you think you’re ready to go it dies on you.  There is no real climax, no peak of the vampire war that makes you think humanity is doomed.  Instead, the ending is ambiguous with Luther Swann basically saying that there are more vampires out there not declaring themselves and that humanity is probably in trouble if they keep persecuting them.

Overall, as much as I hate to say it, V-Wars was a flop for me.  I wouldn’t recommend it; you’re better off reading World War Z, which is at least told in a logical order.

I give this book 1.5/5 stars.

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