C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles".
He's written Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, and The Supervillainy Saga.
THE LAST CLOSET: THE DARK SIDE OF AVALON is a nonfiction novel by Moira Greyland, musician and daughter of acclaimed fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley. She is also a survivor of sexual abuse at her mother's hands.
EXPLODED VIEW by Sam McPheeters is probably one of the better cyberpunk novels written in the 21st century (the dawn of the era of "New Cyberpunk" when science fiction has become science fact). It is an independent novel published by the Talos Company that has produced some truly dark and epic stories too (Swarm and Steel, Godblind, and more). So, if you want to know if I recommend it, the answer is yes. If you want to know why I recommend it then read the rest of the review.
The premise is in the year 2050, the United States has become an overcrowded slum full of refugees who are treated like garbage by the rich, a corrupt police force, and a media obsessed society that routinely pumps out fake news from independent bloggers as well as corporate sponsors. So, the big change is the United States actually taking in people suffering in other countries rather than turning them away at the gate.
The protagonist, Terri Pastuzka, is a recently divorced lesbian police officer who works the beat of Los Angeles. It is a thankless task and the author does an excellent job of making you feel the moral ambiguity, ennui, and general disdain the life of a cop has in this era (or any era since this is a neo-noir novel). Normally, crime-solving is easy in this time periiod because "Pan-Optics" allow them to be reconstructed from the use of omnipresent surveilance from all nearby electronic devices--which isn't so much science fiction as PRISM.
One murder, which involves a refugee who lives among people not so wired, becomes a much harder case to solve which involves a lot of bodies by the end. This is not an action novel but a detective story which is more interested in showing the economically depressed, socially troubled, and corrupt society of 2050 Los Angeles off. It's a character study, relly, as Terri struggles to keep some of her decency in a society that has eroded most of it through simple grind.
An element of the technology which is somewhat unbelievable but quite entertaining is the fact everyone has access to the ability to re-edit movies or television to their liking. Like video game mods, you can have television characters switch their plots in mid-sentence, get naked, or change their dialogue at will. Our heroine loves mutilating the old Nick and Nora movies like The Thin Man.
I love all the little details like the fact skyscrapers have become community housing due to the fact all corporations are based online, the fact social media now coordinates horrible pranks called "Strangers on a Train" as a means of collective punishment, and how people can psychologically scar themselves badly by remixing their worst memories on television.
As a fan of classic noir like Chinatown and modern noir like L.A. Noire, I have to say this was a great novel and fit perfectly into the genre of cyberpunk. Technology has not made humanity better but just given us more ways to screw around with one another as well as scratch the itch of boredom. It gets abused by the government as well as the public equally. It reminded me a bit of Strange Days, really, and that's not a bad thing.
THE COVEN QUEEN by Jeramy Goble is a Dark Fantasy story about a cursed land, a queen who must quickly acclimate to being a tyrant, and a terrible hereditary horror which is constantly in the back of the protagonist's mind. Long ago, a member of the royal family made a terrible pact with the godlike Voidguardian. Each of the monarchs of the nation of Acorlian must be sacrificed when they reach a certain age but they must first give birth or sire an heir so the line can continue to be sacrificed indefinitely.
Jularra is a woman who does not want to bend down and become nothing more than another nameless sacrifice for a land which is collapsing despite her family's endless sacrifices. Acorlian is suffering famine and with no coin to pay for the people to be fed, she makes a difficult decision to become a conquering warrior queen to make the potential last years of her life into something worthwhile.
I like the character of Jularra who reminds me of how I hoped Sansa's storyline on Game of Thrones should have gone (more akin to Daenerys than Jeyne Poole's). She's a woman who has a dark side and a terrible burning anger which provides her with motivation to change her circumstances. There's a few grotesque moments where she unleashes her full power to execute or torture those who have offended her.
There's a couple of moments which didn't work for me in the book where the books gets a little psycho-sexual. Jularra is a person who has issues with lust and desire due to her curse, so she lashes out in some truly grotesque ways. I didn't think this was necessary and it clashed against the book's overall tone. Still, you've got to admit cursing a man to become grossly deformed "there" to the point of death is a memorable scene.
The strongest part of the story is definitely he conflict with Jularra as the time ticks down until she is meant to present a sacrifice to the Voidwarden. Another generation who has no hope to be anything but a brood mare and a viceroy for the monster who looms over the kingdom. There's a lot of emotion in that and the author handles the conflict well. The resolution also nicely ties up the story and leaves it as an okay standalone.
Overall, I have to say this was an entertaining story which is carried by the strong personality of its protagonist. I would have enjoyed the book more if there was a more detailed supporting cast but they mostly exist in relationship to the lead.