So, “Starry Messenger” paints itself as a story about a benevolent alien coming to save the world from the forces that have infiltrated it, that have set it on the path to self-annihilation. The world may appear to be this idyllic place on the surface, a near utopian, but it’s all just a smoke screen to distract from the fact that it’s far from perfect. Only a race of aliens, that are chosen by a supreme being to protect its favorite little fledgling planet—Earth—know the truth. They are sent to discover why humans haven’t progressed the way they should and haven’t joined the other enlightened races in the stars to live in true peace. This is where our main character Quentin comes in. He’s the one sent to find out what’s up with these earthlings, and in the process, discovers the true evil, and then falls in love. It’s an interesting twist on the whole aliens coming to Earth idea, but I personally found the characters to be a bit flat and the story ends rather abruptly.
At first I thought “Hell Holes” was going to be a science fiction novella given the cast of main characters are all scientists or researches in the natural sciences. And, admittedly, the first half of the book feels like a true science fiction as the characters explain the science and their reasoning for what the mysterious holes popping up all over Alaska could be or what may be causing them. Then it takes a pretty hard left into pure horror/paranormal action. “Hell Holes” starts off as a quest for answers about these holes and what can be done to keep them from interrupting a lucrative Alaskan oil line, then ends on a high speed chase across the tundra as the scientists are hunted down by all manner of hell-spawn and demons. Was I disappointed by this turn? Not really. But I was taken by surprise.
The title of this book, coupled with the vaguely angelic looking, tribal painted model would have you think this book is some introspective art piece, I mean, the title is essentially a messenger’s speech/monologue, which, it actually is. The monologue I mean, not the art piece. Messenger, the 16 year old main character, is telling the story of what happened to him, his family’s tequila farm, and his entire family plus his love interest, to a therapist of sorts while he recovers in a hospital. The entire book, with very few exceptions, is told through this dialogue, recounting the recent past. Basically, on one rather normal day, Messenger’s farm is destroyed by three alien ships as they land and then begin hunting for something on the property. What follows is the main characters tale of how they ran, what they found, and how everything changed from that moment on.
“The Streets of Nottingham” is a quick little fantasy adventure novella that follows the story of a young boy as he races to bring his childhood sweetheart back from the dead. Along the way, he meets the paranormal god-like figures that have given shape to his village/world, and struggles to get to the place that is foretold in all the ancient scrolls, and yet no one has ever been to in order to save his friend… It’s a titillating premise and Simwinga has a lovely talent for being able to craft a story that feels like an ancient folk tale mixed with some wonderful fantasy elements. But, as is sometimes the case with novellas, I found the length of this story to be the biggest detriment to it, for the author can tell a fun, almost lyrical story, but I always found myself wanting a bit more.
Everything you need to know about this novella can be found in the synopsis, in fact, maybe too much is there. Still, in the world of “Viral Spark” humans have come to rely on machines—specifically digital implants and robots—for pretty much everything. There’s this light, depressing vibe a-la-Wall-E going on in this book that I kind of loved: people cluster like insects in their massive buildings, rarely leaving. Everything from their food to their clothes is 3D printed, and changing the décor of your apartment is just a swipe away on your own augmented reality screen. There is a lovely undertone of a dystopian here that I wanted to see more of, but as this is a novella, the focus remained firmly on the glitches in the main character’s system, and not the world McConnell places the reader in.
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