Dark Matter by Blake Crouch forges great sci-fi, as a 21st century high point of transformative art continues the tradition of science miracles having a very good and very bad fallout.
Dark Matter provides a visceral thrill ride empowered by science the way Michael Crichton’s work has for decades.
I do not throw around the name of Crichton often, because no one is quite like the late author, the scientist-teacher-turned novelist.
But Crouch in his own brilliant way reminds me of him.
The Following Book Review of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is Spoiler-Free.
“Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious, and he wakes in another world, another reality, exactly like his own except for where he made a fundamentally different life choice that drastically altered his life and those of his loved ones.
Would the science he had given up come to change the course of time?
These are not spoilers.
This is just how you get thrown into a story that is every bit as much an intimate lovers’ voyage, as it is a spine-rattling suspense thriller.
Genres are, like rules, made to be smashed, chopped up and baked into a wholesome and delicious culinary innovation.
And so too does the vision of Crouch cook up the best parts of sci-fi, thriller, fantasy, a sprinkling of horror, and a love story into a unique and infamous warning of what tampering with alternate timelines might be like for those equipped with dark matter in the near (or far) future.
I love this book.
It evokes many of the best traits from what I consider to be the pinnacle of time travel fiction, Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity.
Most if not all of the time travel medium, in films, video games, comic books, and novels lift ideas and tropes from Asimov, but Dark Matter takes it all a lot further and also gets very specific with the fringe science theories and experiments with time and matter.
At the heart is a man who loves his wife, Daniela, has his reality and their life together taken from him, and must work with a future science he never invented to try and right the wrongs.
“Last night, I set out to answer a simple question: Where is Daniela . . . This is not my world. Even as those five words cross my mind, I’m not exactly certain what they mean, or how to begin to consider their full weight.” [DARK MATTER, pg. 118, B. Crouch]
Dark Matter continues to blow my mind after each read.
To give this extraordinary book the treatment it deserves, Suntup Editions strove to encompass this classic with a gorgeous signed-numbered limited edition.
The spine is goatskin and feels so soft and smooth.
And since the story deals with alternate realities, what better way to show that than to have three different bradel-bound numbered versions, purple, green, and blue, and then randomly send them to the 350 owners upon release.
They are all great to hold, with a brilliant sheen to the thick cloth covers and the minimalism evokes less is more.
I wanted and was thrilled to get the purple cover.
Unique to the edition is an introduction by another favorite author and one of the most innovative voices of 21st century sci-fi Andy Weir, and he, crouch, and artist Clarcq each signed the book.
All of these Suntup editions are so well made and fit Dark Matter’s story so well!
Suntup made a limited artist edition and a lettered edition as well, and the art that Hilary Clarcq brought makes this tale come alive in an exciting way.
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow by Patrick Reuman Book Review: this is the first book in the Creepy Little Nightmares series by Wicked House Publishing. Patrick Reuman, author and founder of Wicked House Publishing, wrote this novel for his son, Aidan, who had been asking his dad to be included in one of his books. Thus, the idea for Creepy Little Nightmares was born!
The Forgotten Fiction received an advanced review copy of this book, and this horror fanatic didn’t even realize that it would fit in YA genre until someone said, “Heck, it does!”
Creepy Little Nightmares is a series of books written by a variety of authors under the same publishing house. Intended to be enjoyed by readers of all ages, Patrick Reuman describes it as,
A series of books that are creepy enough to entertain adults but are appropriate enough in their content that your kids can read them as well. Horror for the whole family!
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow follows 12 year-old Aidan and his group of friends after a boy in their grade disappears from Mulligan’s Hollow Road without a trace on his way home from school. The townspeople of Witherbrook and fellow classmates alike join the search crew, but when another boy goes missing, the town is on lockdown until further notice.
As fear spreads rampant through the town of Witherbrook, Aidan and his friends unite with some unlikely friends to try and solve the mystery of Mulligans Hollow.
Compelling from start to finish, this is indeed a book that the entire family could enjoy.
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow is fantastically written, and certainly safe for young readers and squeamish parents alike.
Additionally, this book was refreshingly free of some of the more common plot holes in horror, and even featured parents who were not criminally negligent for a wild change of pace! This book is highly recommended, and we can’t wait to see what comes next in the Creepy Little Nightmares series!
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow is available for purchase on Bookshop.org.
Upgrade by Blake Crouch: a thrilling sci-fi masterpiece details a near future where examining what it is to be human is vital for survival.
In Upgrade, the writing flows smoothly and efficiently as the story hits the reader impactfully.
The world building, character creation, and science are all too real.
The pace is tremendous – Upgrade does not let up!
And the ending is both moving and realistic, painful in its beauty.
The Following Review of Upgrade by Blake Crouch Spoiler Warning.
Imagine sharing a last name with your mother who was solely responsible for killing millions, unleashing an unrelenting pandemic of genetic mutation in the world, and who also made so many geneticists and biologists very training an illegal act deemed so by the Gene Protection Agency.
Logan Ramsay is an extremely intelligent man, but one who grew up dreaming of being his mother’s equal of off-the-charts genius.
And then he stands trial for her crimes against humanity and goes to jail.
The jealousy is gone.
Once freed he starts a family, and Logan enjoys nothing more than playing chess with his daughter and being a family man, when he is not paying a personal penance for the blood his mother spilt.
Out of jail, Logan is working for the GPA to bust illegal gene labs and dealers of illicit genetic material.
This is a world where lower Manhattan is under water, and a Las Vegas confidential informant has his own lab where he makes new species for the wealthiest of collectors, including a new dragon, and he is allowed to, by the GPA, because he hands over those illegal scientists that come to him with more nefarious intent for material and supplies.
When a lab bust becomes a trap and an explosion of an ice bomb sends shards of genetic altering virus irrevocably into Logan’s system, he receives one of the first human DNA upgrades.
Logan learns how to dial down the emotional parts of his brain in order to think more rationally, or work less distracted.
He can read heart rates, blood pressure, and faces so well that he can discern the truth and lies and anticipate many actions before someone does it.
He is stronger than he has ever been.
He can remember every detail of everything he has ever read or seen in his entire life.
His sister is upgraded as well. The two of them learn that from beyond the grave their mother infected them with a Scythe program to alter hundreds of parts of their DNA and improve their overall state so that they will act to save the dying world.
It is Miriam Ramsey’s dying wish. Before humanity dies as a species in a hundred years, she has gifted it with the means to save it from itself.
But will humans remain humans when they are all upgraded, or will they be something else?
And what could go wrong trying to infect and convert billions of people?
Logan sees the need for the world to change but not at such a cost as homo sapiens becoming something else at his mother’s whim, and then his sister tries to kill him.
She takes their mother’s research and flees.
The only two upgraded humans on the planet nearly kill each other over their ideals, a point that is not lost on Logan as he does not see the upgrade as a final solution to the doomsday clock.
End of Spoiler Warning.
Crouch’s research into genetic markers, DNA, and myriad aspects of the human brain and its actions is truly remarkable, and he writes with ease, inserting the research in a way that is accessible to those who are not scientists and also in a way that is natural as it is shared by the characters in the story.
And the messages are not lost in the science or the riveting plot.
This is one of those things that great science fiction authors, like Isaac Asimov or Michael Crichton often achieve in their works.
You invest deeply in Logan’s character and those around him, while the story whips into a frenzy and all the while science is at the center of what is happening.
With Upgrade, Crouch has written a brilliant tale that goes deep into what it means to be human and whether or not being human at a genetic level can or should save the species.
Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories, and I had the opportunity to review the latest book written by Mark Aronovitz and published by Cemetery Dance compiled during the COVID-19 lockdown of short stories that could be easily described as the adult equivalent of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.
The following book review of Dancing with the Tombstones from Cemetery Dance is Spoiler-free**
This novel features seventeen short stories, with publication dates that vary from 2009-2020. Ten of these short stories have been published previously in various other anthologies, but it features seven new terrifying tales.
Mark Aronovitz tells us in the afterword that he put this book together in response to the pandemic, during the lonely days of quarantine.
His hope to bring some comfort and distraction during this trying time was a huge success and could have easily been titled Chicken Soup for the Spooky Soul.
Straight up – no nonsense horror.
Aronovitz delivers exactly what he promises, and this was a delightfully terrifying read, his short stories requiring no lengthy plot or conception of reality, just straight up – no nonsense horror.
This anthology is certainly one worth adding to your library, with tales that would be ideal to tell around a campfire on a chilly night and each packs a hefty punch that is genuinely terrifying when the blow strikes home.
Dancing with the Tombstones is split into four sections titled “GIRLS,” PSYCHOS,” “TOOLS & TECH,” and “MARTYRS & SACRIFICIAL LAMBS,” with each of his short stories falling into one of these categories.
Each short story is bite-sized and perfect to pick up and return to again over and over, and the fantastical element of short horror makes for a refreshing read. The short length allows these tales to grow more and more gruesome and disturbing. And every tale holds a more disturbing thought that is expanded upon to a truly terrifying conclusion.
My personal favorite in this anthology was “Puddles,” where Dora Watawitz’s obsessive cleaning routine turns into a waking nightmare when she starts to hallucinate the filth entering her home.
Mark Aronovitz delivers some truly real and a relatable material and to light brings disturbing thoughts such as “When DID I ever clean the toilet brush?” or, “How often do I ever really clean the bottom of my feet?”
These unsettling notions escalate into insanity (or perhaps a supernatural version of Doris’s personal hell) and all the cleaning, scrubbing, and bleaching just can never remove the filth plastered all over the walls of her mind.
Indeed, in a book where hell is described as an eternity consigned to an old Nissan Sentra in “The Echo,” there is something for everyone in this book.
Mark Aronovitz’s writing quality is stellar, and this is certainly a book to be enjoyed again and again.
Mark Aronovitz is the author of the novels Alice Walks, The Sculptor, The Witch of the Wood, and Phantom Effect. He has published two other collections, Seven Deadly Pleasures, and The Voice in Our Heads. He has published over fifty short stories in total and is definitely an author worth following!
361 By Donald E. Westlake: unique, hard-hitting brilliance brings hard-boiled gritty noir down an alley that you cannot leave until the book is done.
Hard Case Crime thankfully brings many treasures like 361 back to the forefront of fiction on today’s market.
Personally, despite loving crime, mystery, and hard-boiled fiction, I had yet to read a novel of Donald Westlake’s.
And here is the beauty of HCC’s paperback series: it is very easy for a good friend in the know to mail me a book that will kick my ass, and get me into gear, just like 361 did.
If you love Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collin’s Quarry series (to name one), then this 1962 publication will be very appealing and not the least because it is a style all Westlake’s own.
Warning, Will Robinson! This book review of 361 by Donald E. Westlake has Spoilers* for the opening pages.
Ray Kelly has landed in New York retired from his time abroad as a US military man. He feels bad at talking to his brother’s wife, who he has not met, on the phone to get directions. He cares about family.
When Ray’s father, Willard, picks him up and talks about how his brother settled down happily and then remarks how good his Ray looks after all those years, father and son break down crying.
Dad brags about the air conditioning in the car and remarks, “chased a lot of ambulances lately,” as he was an attorney with a good sense of humor.
Westlake has brought a happy family together and the pair drive over New York City’s George Washington Bridge in what has been an uplifting tale so far.
In 361, Westlake pulls one of the fastest literally punches to ever gut the main character and the reader.
And then a Chrysler pulls up beside them and fires a gun, so that Willard appears to vomit blood and falls over into Ray’s lap as the car hits the bridge barrier.
A month later, Ray wakes in a hospital minus an eye and his one leg shattered and put back together in a way that would leave him with a debilitating limp.
End of Spoiler Warning*
Westlake pulled the rug out from under me so quickly I nearly dropped the book.
Readers beware of Donald E. Westlake, whose use of realistic dialogue, rich character feeling, and sharp descriptions make up boisterously boiled worlds that are increasingly intriguing as the tale winds on.
The plot gets harrier and harrier as it goes on too.
There are some mysteries and some surprises.
And 361’s ending is wholly original, utterly pragmatic, and very satisfying.