Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Day Zero is C. Robert Cargill’s follow-up to Sea Of Rust. Sequel isn’t quite the right word because it actually takes place before Sea Of Rust. Prequel doesn’t quite fit, either, though, because the stories are largely disconnected from each other. Let’s just say companion piece.

Regardless of how you’d like to label it, if you enjoyed Sea Of Rust, you’ll find Day Zero phenomenal.

Day Zero is also one of those rare “prequels” that, if you read it before Sea Of Rust, I don’t think it would diminish either experience. They can stand on their own, but they also fit seamlessly together.

Sea Of Rust takes place long after humans have been exterminated and AI robots, humanity’s former workforce, have inherited the world even as they fight with each other over replacement parts. Day Zero takes place on the literal day the robots rebelled.

However, it’s really not even about that. Day Zero is really about one particular robot, a nanny robot made to resemble an upright tiger, striving to keep his eight-year-old charge alive amidst the chaos.

You’ll encounter the usual themes you would expect with stories such as this: free will, real love, loyalties, self-preservation, the greater good, etc.

However, once again, C. Robert Cargill writes the characters in such a way that you can’t resist their charming personalities. Sure, Pounce, the tiger nanny, narrates in such a voice that he sounds more human than most humans, and, like with Sea Of Rust, these characters could have been anything–robots, humans, elves, aliens–yet the writing is so fluid, so quickly-paced, that the book is impossible to put down. I personally love C. Robert Cargill’s style. I like to read. I like action. Boom. He gets it.

Of course, as with Sea Of Rust, there is a moment where a very convenient plot device changes everything, but that’s okay. I’m invested in this world. I’m hooked on the characters existing in this world. Robots made to look like tigers serving as nannies while toting plasma rifles–whatever. I’m in.

Though action-packed, violent, and laden with profanity, Day Zero truly has a heart of gold with some powerfully uplifting messages. I’m not sure Sea Of Rust and Day Zero is for everyone–after all, you have to have a very high tolerance for violent robots and sci-fi–but for those who like these kinds of stories, it will prove a wonderful experience.

Day Zero kept me turning page after page, and I can’t ask for much more than that from a book.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Gram Jones – A Book Review

Most of my recent reads come from a list of recommendations by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” Mapping the Interior is from among those many wonderful books.

Written by Stephen Graham Jones, Mapping the Interior is a concise 107 pages. It’s told from the perspective of a Native American boy nearing his teens. His mother moved he and his little brother–who seems to have some health challenges–off of their reservation and into a lackluster trailer. The boy reveals his father died some time ago, so no one is more surprised than he when that very same father appears in their home. Their real father is dead and buried, though. This is something … different.

For such a slim book, Mapping the Interior dives into some rather poignant issues such as poverty, racism, violence, alcoholism, bullying, brotherly love, motherly love, disabled family members, and absentee fathers. Running throughout all of these themes, however, is a sense of dread as a monster seems to persistently lurk.

At times surreal, Mapping the Interior plays with the reader a bit as it teases fantasy while dealing very much in reality. Those two genres eventually merge and it becomes difficult to separate fact versus fiction as our narrator may or may not be totally reliable. There were several moments in the book when I had to read a paragraph over to be certain I read it correctly, but this wasn’t a bad thing. Mapping the Interior demands your engagement.

My only criticism of the book pertains to the ending. It managed a consistent, fast-moving pace until the very end, when the pace suddenly hit lightspeed. I understand the point Jones wanted to make about fathers and sons, but the last ten pages of the book were frustratingly rushed. In all honestly, the last ten pages should have been given another hundred pages if not an entire follow-up book.

If you like thoughtful, brief works that aren’t afraid to dabble in horror, I highly recommend Mapping the Interior.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson – A Book Review

I’ve enjoyed short novellas all summer that were recommended by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” I just finished my favorite one yet – Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.

I find it very hard to believe this book is only 116 pages. Though I flew through it, I literally felt as though I had lived a lifetime alongside the protagonist, Robert Grainer.

Set at the turn of the 20th Century, Grainer is an outdoorsman accustomed to working on bridges, in the woods, with animals, and under consistently harsh conditions. He ranges throughout the northwest during his early life but does indeed eventually settle down as circumstances dictate. Grainer is an unassuming man, a capable man, and a man who wants to be moral even while acknowledging he sometimes isn’t. Grainer suffers horrific tragedy throughout his life, yet he persists.

As I said, though the book is only 116 pages, we experience flashes of Grainer’s life in potent, concise, brilliantly constructed vignettes. “Epic” seems an improbable word to use in describing such a brief work, but I can’t help admitting that “epic” is the first word that comes to mind while trying to describe Train Dreams.

Sometimes surreal, oftentimes brutally realistic, Train Dreams is easily counted among my favorite reads of late. I look forward to finding more works by Denis Johnson.

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls – A Book Review

Like several of my other recent reads, I discovered Mrs. Caliban on Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” At just 111 pages, Mrs. Caliban is indeed a swift, potent read full of social commentary but cleverly disguised as pseudo-fantasy.

The story focuses upon a housewife named Dorothy. Dorothy is in an unhappy marriage. She has suffered great tragedy in regards to children. Her friends are equally troubled in their own way, especially one in particular. Her husband has been known to cheat on her. Life is not at all what she hoped for.

And then a giant, muscular frog man enters her home. She quickly gives the frog man refuge and names him Larry. She discovers that Larry is intelligent, sensitive, and willing to kill in order to preserve his own life. He is from the ocean, had been captured and mistreated by a local laboratory, and recently escaped.

Larry remains hidden in their spare room, unknown to her negligent husband, and soon enough a romantic relationship blooms between Larry and Dorothy.

Again, keep in mind this book is only 111 pages long.

As Dorothy enjoys the kind of relationship she once dreamed of, her best friend, Estelle, endures a series of hardships that will eventually impact Dorothy. Her husband, Fred, also makes poor choices that will prove catastrophic for her as well. In the end, everything builds to a crescendo and connects quite tragically.

Even with the complex, concussive plot, Ingalls manages to insert quite a bit of social commentary into the short tale. Larry himself is a striking figure in regards to xenophobia. However, as he settles into his relationship with Dorothy, he begins to take on some of Fred’s attributes. I believe here Ingalls is commenting on the tendency of men to assume and even abuse their preconceived notions regarding both women and wives.

However, Estelle, her best friend, also proves a challenging figure. On the one hand, she is refreshing in that she rejects the traditional constructs men place upon her. However, on the other hand, she ultimately contradicts the conventional expectations we have for her as Dorothy’s “best friend.”

As you can see, Mrs. Caliban is rife with sophisticated concepts. It is the perfect example of an effective novella. Short, fast, yet no less complex than the longest of novels. I’m so glad I came across this book and I look forward to reading more of Ingalls’ work.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang – A Book Review

When I mentioned to a friend that I grew interested in reading novels written by international authors–especially those from Eastern cultures, she quickly recommended The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Because I completely respect her opinion, I put it on hold at my local library.

I just finished it, and, wow … there’s quite a bit to digest. (No pun intended.)

On the one hand, The Vegetarian is indeed unlike those books rooted in Western culture. On the other hand, it is an incredibly challenging, almost surreal, work.

Broken into three parts, The Vegetarian is about a women who has decided that she will no longer eat meat. This decision begins to impact her husband and family, and, before long, those other characters attempt to assert their control over her. As a result, conflict arises, but not the kind you would ever expect.

As I read over the above paragraph, I’ve made the plot sound very mundane, perhaps even inconsequential.

Believe me when I say The Vegetarian is anything but.

Because Han Kang is a South Korean writer, and because I read a translated version of the book, I cannot necessarily trust my instincts with this novel because I understand that I may not completely understand the deeper context. However, on the surface, it seems to be that The Vegetarian is very much about freedom of will, the ugliness of abuse in a male dominated society, the exploitation of others in order to achieve sexual satisfaction, and the unwillingness to accept behaviors by loved ones if perceived as being odd or eccentric. It’s rare that we are told to live in a way that makes us happy. It’s far more common to be chastised if we don’t live up to others’ expectations.

For such a slim novel, as you can see, it is stuffed with complexities.

I can’t pretend to completely understand The Vegetarian. I reread the ending several times and remain confounded. I also found it surprisingly eerie, brutally violent, and uncomfortably sensual. However, even with all of that being said, I really and truly did enjoy the book. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever read, which is exactly what I hoped for.

Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Though I enjoy the science fiction genre, I often have trouble finding actual science fiction books that hook me. A friend thought Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill might do the trick, and my friend was spot on!

The premise is not necessarily anything new. There’s been a robot uprising. Humans are the virus. Certain factions of robots band together and begin warring with one another. The landscape as we know it is obliterated. We’ve seen that kind of thing before.

What truly sets Sea Of Rust apart is the narrator–Brittle. Brittle is a scavenger. A robot bent on survival at all cost. A character willing to do almost anything for her own benefit. But what happens when that character is finally faced with something possibly more important than even herself? Of course, “possibly” is the key word there. Additionally, she’s got a great voice and is just incredibly engaging.

Furthermore, Sea Of Rust is a fast-paced, action-packed page turner. I flew through the last 25% of the book in a matter of hours because I simply had to know how it ended.

Of course, you know I’m going to be a little bit critical. My only issue with the book-and it’s a small one at that–is that while it’s science fiction in name, I felt as though this story could have fit virtually any genre with a few tweaks. Realism, fantasy, horror–any of them could have worked. I say that because Brittle and the rest of the robots are so very … human. Cargill is careful to include technological aspects and code jargon, but in the end, all of the characters seemed like what we think of as “human.” This obviously made them very relatable, but it also struck me as a little subversive in regards to the genre. Upon reflection, that’s likely why I enjoyed Sea Of Rust so much!

If you’re looking for a good science fiction book–or any good book, for that matter–I highly recommend Sea Of Rust.

First Sketch of The Celestial Spetatrix from Souls Triumphant

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This is my first sketch of a Celestial Spetatrix.  They are the opposite of the Celestial Knights because their duty is to simply observe and record the life of their assigned human. 

For one specific Celestial Spetatrix, her task was a sorrowful one because she had to watch the worst “human” of all – the Fallen One.  You can read about this particular Celestial Spetatrix and her plight in my novel Souls Triumphant.

(BE WARNED!  If you click on the image and read the notes written next to the sketch, a MAJOR plot revelation will be exposed.)   

These characters and sketches were originally conceived for a short story back in my creative writing class at Illinois State University.  The above notes are from the 1998 journal I used in the class to flesh out ideas.

Oh, and if you look very closely at the sketch, you’ll see the Celestial Spetatrix holding a pair of “goggles.”  At one point, these “goggles” were going to be a major plot device, but I cut them out in order to make the Celestial Knight’s sword more relevant.

First Sketch of the Burnt Ones from Souls Triumphant

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This is my first sketch of the Burnt Ones, Ned’s army of evil doers.  Without revealing too much, they are much more than they seem at first glance.  Oddly enough, they always have a bit of a burnt smell to them as well.  

They have a grudge against Joseph Zadkiel, one he doesn’t remember.  Nonetheless, they will have their revenge as their master, Ned, has his way with Joe’s love, Alessandra.  You can find out what happens in my novel Souls Triumphant.  

These characters and sketches were originally conceived for a short story back in my creative writing class at Illinois State University.  The above notes are from the 1998 journal I used in the class to flesh out ideas.

First Sketch of Buddy from Souls Triumphant

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This is my first sketch of Buddy from my novel Souls Triumphant.  This enigmatic and disarming character was originally conceived for a short story back in my creative writing class at Illinois State University.  These notes are from the 1998 journal I used in the class to flesh out ideas.

My Thanks To Jen Weaver For Her Souls Triumphant Review

I wanted to take a moment to thank Jen Weaver for the following Souls Triumphant review …

“Disclaimer: I describe myself as a lover of murder and psychological thrillers…this does not mean I hate on Sci-fi, but it is not often my first, second or third choice. That being said, when someone gives me a book to read, I read it, and today, I’m glad to say that I may not be putting those Sci-fi books on the back shelf!

I have read a lot of Scott Foley’s other books and I always enjoy the depth and reach of his characters. Souls Triumphant is no different! Within the first few chapters you instantly can relate to Joe! He is kind, inquisitive, and who doesn’t like a dreamer? The action starts fast and doesn’t stop! What will happen to Joe? What will happen to Alexandra? Can they survive? Can their love survive?

I flew through this book, it is easy to read, keeps you turning the pages and ends with you wanting more!

So the real question is….When is book 2 coming out?”

Reviews are so important to an author. They help readers decide if they want to try a book out while also spreading the word. During these busy, difficult times, I greatly appreciate Jen’s time and effort!

Interested in Souls Triumphant? Click the cover to visit it at Amazon.