Heroic Relics by Catherine H. Shaffer

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 24, 2014 in Reviews

Buzzy Mag
Author Website: http://www.catherineshaffer.com/


Sabrina Smith has settled nicely into her second career as a veterinarian. She finds working with animals much more rewarding than her former paper pushing job as an army intelligence analyst. Her work is intense, yet predictable, that is until she receives the strangest pair of visitors at her clinic:

She was examining a llama in the back pasture of her clinic when she noticed two men, who definitely didn’t fit in, standing at the rail. They obviously wanted her attention, but she let them hang while she decided who and what she thought they were. With their black suits and sunglasses, they looked like government types. More likely, they were lawyers. They didn’t have an animal with them, so that was a pretty big clue they weren’t customers. The taller one looked impatient, like he had some place else he needed to be and soon. The shorter man looked more relaxed, almost like he was enjoying the view.

Curiosity finally got the better of her, and she handed the llama’s halter to her assistant technician. She walked over to the fence and addressed the taller visitor. “If you’ve brought your friend here to get neutered, I’m all booked up until Tuesday.”

The taller man chuckled, and the shorter one flushed. “I’m Roger Sears, NASA mission support specialist. We came about your application to the astronaut corps.”

“What? I filled that out ten years ago,” Sabrina said. Now it was her turn to blush. She’d applied to NASA in a manic period between the army and vet school. It had been kind of a crazy thing to do.

“Well, we have a job for you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Sabrina. “I thought the manned space flight program was disbanded, ever since the Soyuz accident.”

“It was,” said the shorter man. He hadn’t introduced himself yet. “But something has come up.”

And something definitely has come up. An alien ship has landed on the moon, and they need Sabrina’s vet expertise and security clearance to help transport the alien back to Earth. Growing up, she’d always wanted to be a veterinarian-spy-astronaut-princess, and if she takes these MiB up on their offer, she’ll be almost all the way there.

This was a fun, lighthearted piece, so I kinda feel bad for poking holes in it, but I had a really hard time suspending my belief for this one. I liked that they picked a vet over a doctor, since vets would be more versed in different physiologies, and it was fun to see someone’s childhood fantasy come true in the weirdest of ways. But everything just seemed too convenient, as if the plot were driving the story instead of the characters. The conversations seemed overly scripted for a laugh, technology failed right when it was supposed to, and worked right when it was supposed to. There were a couple hilarious moments with the alien, (space suits!), but that could have been so much deeper. Sabrina is the first one to meet a person from a different world, but she seems about as excited as she would be setting a dog’s broken leg.

In any case, if you’re looking for something whimsical and space related, give this a read. It’s nice having something to counteract all of the heavy/depressing pieces, but I just wish this had been a little more believable for me.

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Threads of Pearl, Writhing by Gwendolyn Clare

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 23, 2014 in Reviews

Buzzy Mag
Author Website: http://www.gwendolynclare.com/


Elizabeth Felsen is one of just a few uninfected humans left aboard a station at the edge of human space.  She sneaks about in the air vents, trying to do any little thing she can to sabotage the tiny, tentacled aliens that have taken the station’s inhabitants as mindless hosts, pumped full of artificial bliss and happiness. Elizabeth is on the path to finding a cure, along with the aid of her husband–each time risking discovery and infection.

Like always, I go straight for the communications panel while Angelo watches the door. They turned the quarantine broadcast off again since the last time we checked. The parasitized humans aren’t particularly bright or motivated, but occasionally, one of the gossamers manages to steer its host human into the control room and undo all our security measures. The gossamers are content for now, but as they use up the humans aboard the station, they’ll grow more desperate for a starship to take their species to greener pastures. Like a planet.


Jellyfish image by yuxi3200, Creative Commons

As it is, I have to restart the quarantine broadcast and re-engage the lockdown on all docks. I send a quick status update to the xenoparasitologist who was assigned our case, along with a request to resend the last incoming message—which they erased.

Angelo wanders over from his post by the door to look over my shoulder. He plants a soft kiss on my neck.

“No news,” I whisper. “They deleted it.”

His lips move close to my ear. “You know, Liz, those meat puppets are starting to really get on my nerves.”

I throw an annoyed glance over my shoulder. He knows I don’t like it when he calls the hosts meat puppets. Our friends are still in there somewhere. But I get what he means; I never imagined an alien invasion would be so soft and tedious.

That last line was the one that made me smile, and maybe salivate a little. That’s the point, a mere few hundred words in,  when I settled into the story and prepared myself for how awesome this was going to be. Well played, Gwendolyn. The aliens in this are perfect. I thought we were heading towards a menacing Borg infestation, but in this story we have something even more sinister: aliens that make you happy. The hosts go about their daily routines (with scrawny alien jellyfish lodged in their throats) in a blissful fog, barely any motivation, thank goodness. A little gumption, and this infection would have spread so much more quickly. But the gossamers seem to be content with their slow and monotonous invasion…or are they?

This story is full of tension, and will have you on the edge of your seat. The twists and turns are amazing. Nothing goes according to plan, and there’s just the right balance of emotion and action. Though the ending is somewhat telegraphed, it’s still a good one, and deeply satisfying. If you’ve got a tentacle fetish, this one’s definitely for you. And if you don’t have a tentacle fetish, come closer, dear one, and open wide.

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Red Dust and Dancing Horses by Beth Cato

Posted by Nicky Drayden on Oct 21, 2014 in Writer's Life

Escape Pod
Author Website: http://www.bethcato.com/


Eleven-year-old Martian colonist Nara wants nothing more than to see a horse gallop across the red dust of her planet. It’s a tall order, considering that even horses on Earth are a rarity these days. Still, Nara is obsessed, watching old horse movies until she gets the idea to build her own equine companion. She’s a prodigy with mechanics and convincing AI is pretty easy to come by, but realism…that’s the tricky part. Her father agrees to let her use his workshop to create a metallic version of her favorite horse of all:

She nodded, her mind already filtering through the possibilities. She had to think of horse breeds, no—she would think of specific horses. Trigger, her favorite. He was tough and fast, with all the grace of a dancer. Oh, how he could dance. His hooves shuffled, his gold skin shimmering and muscles coiling. Nara would watch him, holding her breath. Nothing on Mars could move like that.

“You’ll have to use the scrap pile,” Papa continued, snapping her out of a reverie. “But if you need anything fresh, you need to order through me, and you’ll have to work for it. This isn’t going to be cheap.”

“Cheaper than a trip to Earth,” Mother said from the doorway. “And speaking of expenses, we’re going to need inner sealants replaced on three windows as soon as this storm is over. One gap was so big a fiend beetle could almost squeeze through from inside the walls, and God knows what it would cost if one of those got in.”

“As if it’s ever just one,” Papa said, shaking his head. “Well, we’re due for a full sealant inspection anyway.”

Nara closed the equine anatomy charts, her eyes already taking in the nearest scrap pile and a stout piece of pipe ideal for a femur. Mama and Papa’s chatter faded. She tapped her fingers along the tablet, already picturing a horse of her own, programmed to nuzzle her shoulder and whicker in greeting.

Papa was wrong. Balancing the mass would be easy. The artificial intelligence could be adapted from existing programs. Realism was the issue. A glossy hair coat, a trailing mane and tail, the musty smell described in the old books she’d read.

I’ll have to preface my review with the fact that I was never a horse girl growing up. (Unicorns, on the other hand…) so for me, this story already had one strike against it going in. I did really enjoy the characters and the relationships between them, and getting a glimpse of a colony that has settled past the initial excitement and into the mundane of checking glass seals and worrying about insects. But this story really never spoke to me. I tried to re-imagine it if Nara had been obsessed with dogs instead. What if she’d discovered Benji’s coat among the relics in the Corcoran’s Mansion? Nah, it’s just kinda weird, and not really in a good way. But the story does bring up the issues of what precious items deserve to emigrate with us to another planet? What things are so important in Earth history that they deserve an automatic spot in Martian history as well?

I suspect if you’re into horses and taxidermy, this story might be right up your alley, but this one fell flat for me, unfortunately. The writing itself though was enjoyable, and I’d definitely give this author another try.

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