Category Archives: Sci-Fi

The Reckoning (Calliope, #3) by Scott Mari

The Reckoning bridges the action from the previous Calliope books, and with some bombshell revelations, sets up the story for an exciting continuation.

Knowing the successful space battle against the aliens was not the last, Calliope Morrigan and her inner circle immediately begin preparing for the next onslaught. Humanity needs to unite and harness the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their best brightest engineers and scientists to develop defenses and offensive measures against their much more technologically advanced enemy. To this end, Calliope, Arn, Eylana, and Jared set off on a recruiting tour of what is left of Europe and the Soviet Union. For the most part, their requests for help fall on deaf ears, but they encounter some success by trading technology for technology. When Calliope must return to space, the rumor of a secret underground particle accelerator research facility takes Arn, Eylana, and two of her sisters to the desert near the dried-up Aral Sea. But Sirchan Li, thinking that Calliope is still with the group, has a surprise waiting for them.

Back on the Factory Asteroid, Jake has been trying to communicate with the alien “Greens” captured during the assault on Calliope’s Cannon Asteroid and making very little headway. Behind the scenes, Calliope is working on a Mars terraforming project. She has Jared shuttling the new spaceships that Arn constructed on Earth to the Lunar Station and taking vast amounts of seawater and their accompanying macroinvertebrates from the White Sea in Mars’ Mariner Valley when he comes.

Construction of Eylana’s newly redesigned and upgraded stealth drones is approaching completion and are soon ready to be deployed around Jupiter, its moon, and the various asteroid belts in the sections of space the aliens are suspected to be hidden. The mission to place the drones to spy and give an early warning of an alien assault will require three experienced pilots. With Eylana and Jake seeding the moons and asteroid belts, Calliope takes on the most dangerous flight herself: placing the stealth drones right in the middle of the alien fleet.

The Reckoning is the third book in the excellent SciFi series, Calliope, by author Scott Mari. In this continuation of Calliope Morrigan’s story and her fight against the aliens, the Larvaltics, an aggressive, lizard-like race of creatures that killed her parents and almost destroyed the Earth. The book’s action picks up after the aliens’ defeat on Calliope’s Cannon Asteroid base near Jupiter, where the aliens were discovered building up their space fleet by the thousands. Returning to Earth and hailed as the savior of humankind, she and her circle of like-minded coworkers meet with the recovering countries’ leaders, including the U.S., to solicit their assistance in preparing for the next alien assault.

The first third of the book details their meetings in Europe and Russia looking for support, and I found it slow-going, somewhat vague, and wandering. It felt like the characters really had no plan. However, the action really explodes when the quartet separates with Calliope returning to direct her numerous ongoing projects in space, Jared shuttling the new Earth-made spacecraft and their pilots to the Lunar Station, Eylana looking for her mother and sisters, and accompanying Arn Lasserman to chase down a secret underground particle accelerator laboratory rumored to be at the abandoned Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soviet version of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Scott Mari writes exciting action sequences like no other; they are dynamite, and there are plenty from this point forward.

Calliope’s work on her Mars terraforming project holds some interest, as does the continuing work she and Parker are doing on the Lunar Station. Understandably, she’s under a lot of pressure juggling so much, and her interactions with others such as Jake and Parker suffer. But as I mentioned, I felt it was understandable and explained. I wasn’t a fan of her intimacy with Jake, though, even with the explanation. By this, the third book, I must be already too invested in her relationship with Jared for this to be my cup of tea.

I enjoyed that we get some of the story from the aliens’ point-of-view in this volume. Things are not completely straightforward in their world, and the reader should be prepared for some BIG surprises to be revealed.

The Reckoning is a good bridge between the big action that occurred in book two, The Engines of War, and what is being set up for the next book in the series; it is not a standalone novel. Readers who enjoy character-driven SciFi action adventures should definitely give this series some attention, starting with book one, Calliope. I specifically recommend The Reckoning to readers who enjoyed the previous two Calliope novels.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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Wreckers: A Denver Boyd Novel by George Ellis

Wreckers is a delightful mix of SciFi, action, adventure, and late 20th – early 21st-century film and TV pop culture. Cool, cool, cool!

At 19, Denver Boyd is the youngest captain of a wrecker spaceship (the 24th century’s version of a cosmic tow truck) in the verse. But don’t let his apparent youth fool you into thinking he isn’t experienced. Denver knows the score, and he’s one of the best mechanics around. Alone on his inherited vessel, the deceptively souped-up “Mustang 1,” except for his one-eyed cat, Pirate, and the snarky AI known as Gary, he takes calls for all kinds of repair services or tows from across the depths of known space, always barely on the positive side with credits, IPA beer, and delicious snack foods.

On his way to Jasper Station, he comes face-to-face with one of the last people he wants to encounter: the notorious Tracer captain, Desmond. Denver and Desmond had had a deal go sideways in the past, and that hadn’t endeared the boy to the ruthless pirate. Desmond demands a rendezvous and makes Denver an offer he can’t refuse. All he needs to do to get out of his bind with Desmond is sneak onboard one of the most elusive, outlaw space vessels known and steal an item that, apparently, everyone in the verse is willing to kill for. Through the course of events, Denver gains a couple of extra and unwanted crew members and earns an eye-popping bounty on his head courtesy of the universe’s peacekeeping agency: the Interstellar Federation Force.

Wreckers is total entertainment! It is one of those books that you’ll want to keep reading through until the very end in one sitting. That’s right! Get ready to stay up late for this one.

Denver Boyd is such a likable guy. His interaction with the AI, Gary, is fun and humorous. Denver’s attachment to his cat was heartwarming and is sure to hit home with many readers. Each addition to the crew brought new issues, unique skills, and more enjoyment. I look forward to reading more about each one of these in future books. I really loved the big guy, Edgar.

Not only did the characters keep me engaged, but the story itself also grabbed from the first page and never let go. I can attest that the action was truly non-stop, even when dipping into the past for Denver’s backstory. The story is told in both a present and past timeframe: both clearly delineated and easy to follow. His relationships with his family, can we say, are complicated at best? I worried for the kid! The author gives him a history with this father and half-brother that would be quite a burden for any 19-year-old to handle. However, Denver is nothing if not resilient. I liked that he had an uncle that stepped in to take him under his wing when things went sideways with the father and brother. And it felt like all he’d been through with his father, brother, and his uncle prepared him to become pretty, pretty, pretty good at what he does.

For SciFi readers that enjoy the technical side of things, there’s a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for you here, too; it’s not all characters emoting and feelings and yadda yadda yadda. There are parts, processes, shoot ‘em ups, spacey stuff, and a lot of throwback to Star Trek (The Original Show, please!) But for those that skim the tech talk, there’s not so much that it will overwhelm this snappy dialogued, character-driven action-adventure at its heart.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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2240: Return to Planet Earth by Daniela R. Morassutti

2240: RETURN TO PLANET EARTH proved to be a truly rousing action-adventure story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth!

A shipboard emergency forces Pilot Mia Bennet and three coworkers into an escape pod which is jettisoned away from their spaceship immediately before it explodes. The four passengers travel in cryosleep while the AI-monitored pod begins its journey to the Space Station orbiting Earth. But, the pod is drawn off course, and the sleeping astronauts don’t arrive at their destination until almost 25 years later, shocked to find out that they’ve been written off as lost. However, Mia and her friends are not the only ones lost. It seems that during their time in cryosleep, the Earth experienced an apocalyptic event where invisible radiation of an unknown source decimated the human race. Devastated that their families and friends have all been killed, they descend to Earth’s surface and their former base to find out what happened and if there are any survivors anywhere.

2240: RETURN TO PLANET EARTH proved to be a truly rousing action-adventure of a SciFi story set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. I quite enjoyed the plot featuring four Space Force astronauts who are rushed into cryosleep and ejected into deep space in an escape pod after an accident destroys their spaceship and kills the rest of their crew. When the pod is delayed for 25 years in its AI-monitored return to Earth’s space station, the four sleeping survivors miss the apocalyptic event, which results in the elimination of  most of humanity back on the home planet. That alone sold me on this book.

The main characters are all young, 20-somethings, and fairly new to their professions at the book’s start. Successful completion of missions before the current action has advanced them to positions of authority and skill, presenting good role models for younger readers. And since the story unfolds from two points-of-view, Mia’s and Blake’s, there is both a male and female perspective to the storytelling, which is nice. The author has included a variety of characters who are confronted with big decisions to make and must then deal with the consequences of those decisions. Each character is revealed to have experienced tragedy in their lives with the loss of family members and friends during the invisible radiation event, which has wiped out 99.99% of the human population. The friends and coworkers display both personal flaws and strengths but stick together to help each other overcome adversity.

I enjoyed the combinations of settings for the action in the book. The story begins in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, goes to the Space Station, returns to Earth, and the emptiness of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, a high-rise smart building, and the surprisingly fresh destination of Venezuela.

Yet, with all its good points, this book still needs a lot of work on language, grammar, and continuity. These three issues were numerous enough to inhibit the story’s flow, and I had to constantly stop and re-read sentences to understand what the author was trying to say (i.e., missing words, the wrong words used, words used improperly, and typos.) Phrases were often repeated over and over again. Action described in one paragraph would be duplicated two paragraphs later. These things took away from what would have been a very good reading experience. However, all of the problems mentioned above are things that an editor could help resolve.

Without a lot of hardcore SciFi tech-talk and featuring a cadre of quite young protagonists, the target audience seems to lean toward YA, teen, and perhaps even upper middle-grades (once the grammar and language issues are corrected.) I urge the author to have this book looked over; I think the end result would be golden. Until that time, I recommend this book with reservations.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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Opposable (The Halteres Chronicles, Book One) by Kirk E. Hammond

If you’re down for a SciFi story that is totally and completely different, then Opposable is the book for you.

Renowned author of the popular SciFi novel, Halteres, Dr. Stanley Ivan Vanderbilt discovers that the inspiration for his bestseller did not come from within his imagination but was the result of thoughts (known as “Sparks”) sent to him by an alien lifeform, the Arca Trochia, from the real-life planet of Halteres, over two billion light-years away. The Sparks with descriptions of the planet, its leaders, and people – good and bad, are the Arca Trochia’s first foothold in the consciousness of humankind and spread additional thoughts in the receptive minds they found, resulting in the building of “Spires” (portals between Halteres and Earth). The Spires, once activated, would serve as a gateway to launch the invasion and conquest of Earth. Aided by his pet cyborg cats, Patton and Herbert, his best friend, Xeno – a mohawked connoisseur of illicit drugs, a sexy, kick-ass-and-I-don’t-care-WHAT-your-name-is merc named Ashleigh, and one of the novel’s characters-come-to-life, the fire-shooting fingertipped Sho, the heroes take off on a road trip across the southwestern US to stop the alien invasion.

The premise is bizarre. There is violence and gore. Adult situations and drug use. The first scene is positively crazy, and I kept asking myself, “What the heck is going on?!” And it is probably one of the most original, interesting, and entertaining books I’ve read this year. In fact, this book was perfect to close out this trainwreck known as 2020.

The prose is adrenaline-fueled until the drugs kick in. The dialogue is unrelentingly fresh and funny, and I laughed and squirmed at times, but I had to keep reading. This is a road trip tale on acid. I enjoyed so many of the characters, and I don’t know if I can even pick my favorite: Dr. Vanderbilt/Pops/Father – the narrator is great. His best friend, Xeno, is delightful. Patton, the large cyborg cat with thumbs, is awesome. Ashleigh and Sho are total rock stars. I even loved the CAR!

But all fangirling aside, this is a fantasy of a road trip story with the end goal of saving the Earth from an alien invasion. It takes a little getting into because the reader is dumped smack into the middle of the action (there are at least ten years of prior story you’re not immediately privy to). You’re going to have questions, but part of the fun of the story is the answering of these questions as the story goes along. And you never know what’s going to happen next! I think it is this author’s writing style and use of language that really sells this story. I will be looking for more by him, and most definitely if, as I understand, this is the start of a series.

I recommend this to SciFi fans who like alien contact books and are willing to let the tale just flow around them and trust the author to get you successfully to the end and rewarded with a good story.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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Shifting Sides (A Shift in Space, #0) by Danielle Forrest

Whether you like romance in your SciFi or SciFi in your romance, Shifting Sides is the book for you!

Emma, the USS Endeavour’s pilot, was transporting a team of scientists and their families on a mission to study planet HD85512b’s suitability as a human colony. The plan was she and the crew would live and work on the planet, gathering all the data they could, and return to Earth after a couple of years. What they didn’t figure on was HD85512b, also known as Ara, was already inhabited by the Danaus.

Beeyun watched as the Endeavour landed in a field literally in the backyard of his property on Ara debarking dozens of aliens who began to set up buildings and disrupting the natural setting he was sworn to protect and preserve. Each night, attempting to drive the interlopers off, he would wait for them to return to their ship and then tear down everything they’d done that day. But every morning, they would start over again and re-build. One hard-working and persistent alien caught his attention right off. As much as he disliked the aliens wreaking havoc on this property, he admired the feisty female who worked long after the others stopped and bravely ran toward danger when it appeared.

Emma knew the crew of scientists did not like her and felt she was beneath them, a necessary evil, so to speak, as none of them could pilot their ship. It had been a long, lonely, and tiresome journey to HD85512b for her. But still, she tried to fit in and help make the temporary colony a success in any way she could. But rather than things improving as she worked her heart out for them, the crew became more and more unstable, aggressive toward her as well as each other. Then, one afternoon, they grabbed her and tied her to a post in the middle of the field as a ‘sacrifice’ to The Beast that came unseen in the night to destroy their work. But then The Beast came…

Although a prequel in the new A Shift in Space series by Danielle Forrest, SHIFTING SIDES is a fully developed and full-length novel of science-fiction-romance. I thought it was dynamite! The plot is intriguing from the very start, and there is never a dull moment. There were new and interesting things occurring all along the way as the very exciting story unfolded.

I loved the main characters of Emma and Beeyun and rooted for them the entire time. Emma is a loner and a take-charge kind of gal without a lot of the strange hang-ups or inadequacies that seem to accompany many kick-ass heroines; she appears to be a well-rounded and fully-competent young adult. Sure she’s got some conflicts in her past and present life, but they are pretty normal at the outset. Our alien hero, Beeyun, is smart, compassionate, and, although purple, still one sexy guy. I liked the path their relationship took: not too fast, not too slow. Supporting characters offered a variety of interactions and chances for conflict and helped round out a great plot. I really liked the young family of Lacy, Rickelle, and their daughter, Jacie.

I recommend SHIFTING SIDES to science fiction readers who enjoy their stories with a romantic plotline or romance readers who like their love stories to “take them to the stars.” I’m so looking forward to the next book in this series.

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

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Casindra Lost (Paradisi Lost Missions, #1) by Marti Ward

An exciting, hard-core sci-fi tale of the original Paradisi manned exploratory mission.

Commander Jerome Sideris, a renowned LETO pilot and engineer, is selected to make the first manned excursion through a wormhole to the Paradisi solar system in the Andromeda galaxy. It is a 3.5-year mission to survey the four planets there that the ten founding families plan to colonize or develop for resources when they leave a dying Earth behind.

Sideris is a loner, which works in his favor as he’s the only human aboard the LETO SS Casindra. His second-in-command is an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) that has dubbed itself AL. Since their mission includes preparing the way for those who will eventually colonize one of the planets, New Eden, the ship carries numerous species of Earth animals to transfer to its surface to acclimate and multiply.

The mission successfully proceeds much as planned, except when AL sends message drones back through the wormhole, they fail to be returned as per the preplanned and critically necessary schedule. The one or two that are returned by Solar Command give no explanation for the lack of response or the lack of promised supplies. With growing worry about what’s going on back on Earth and dwindling resources, Sideris and AL continue their mission as best they can with the assistance of an unusually perceptive ship’s cat named Simba.

Although not an easy read by any means, Casindra Lost transports the reader straight into the mystery of what happened to Captain Jerome Sideris on the first manned mission through a wormhole to the Paradisi solar system. I love the concept of the Paradisi universe of stories developed and expanded on by so many talented writers. This series seeks to fill in the blanks on the early space missions to prepare the way for the ten founders’ families to colonize the planet called New Eden. It can be on its own or after having already become acquainted with the previous works. If you haven’t read any of the earlier tales, though, be prepared to want to!

This story is exciting, but it builds slowly to a great cliffhanger ending. Thankfully (for me), the next book is already available, and I can continue forward to find out what happens next! This was a great story, but I want to be clear that this might not be for everyone. As I said, it is not an easy read as it is chockful of tech talk and (sometimes) too lengthy mission analyses and logistical discussions between Sideris and the AL, the Casindra’s artificial intelligence. Some of the back and forth, though, serves to show how the relationship between the two changes over the course of the mission and how AL himself evolves. There is an underlying theme of what makes an entity alive or a person or human that is thought-provoking but never approaches preachiness or claims conclusions.

Also included in the story are a pair of cats, Simba and Samba, and their offspring that give Sideris some much-needed companionship. Simba is a featured creature, so we’re party to her thoughts and actions, and this was a lot of fun. Later in the story, her actions and understanding of what’s going on around her become delightfully important.

I recommend Casindra Lost for hard-core sci-fi fans who love seeing science fact come alive in their science fiction.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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The New World (The New World, #1) by Chad Wannamaker

Great beginning, an engaging story, but I was left wondering where’s the rest of the book?

When the small spacecraft had crashed into the lake, Bob Mackey and his brother-in-law, Dan, had gone to see if there were survivors and if they could help. What they found was a dying alien mother protecting her child. With her last breaths, she entrusted the small, furry female to Bob’s care, calling her Tammy. It isn’t until 11 years later that humans will make contact with others of her race – the jZav’Etch, taller, humanoid cat-like beings.

Bob took the young creature home to his remote station and acreage in the wilderness of Juniper, the planet he called home. Tammy became a part of the family, just one of Bob and his wife, Deborah’s, three children. Time passed. She grew up along with the others and is seen as one of the Mackey family, and one of them, by the close-knit community of people colonizing Juniper, a frontier planet outside of the Conglomerated Planets. She’s started to notice boys, and they’ve begun to notice her as well.

One weekend, she and her friends are out beyond the family’s station helping her older brother, Mike, build his own place, which he’ll eventually move to and start his own business and family. They see another spacecraft go down in a wild, hard-to-reach location. The young people make their way to the crash site where they find a heavily-damaged ship and one critically injured survivor – a jZav’Etch like Tammy! When communications and other utilities are knocked out and shuttles coming to their assistance are shot down, they realize the planet is under attack by whoever was after the newcomer and who are now after them!

What to say about The New World? The writing is smooth and easy to read, but there just wasn’t enough of it. The reader is left hanging at a waypoint in the story without a truly compelling reason to read further.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the setting. I was most definitely and immediately engaged by what I read. In fact, I was quickly reminded of John Marsden’s YA Tomorrow series, which is one of my favorites. But, frankly, the story needed to be fleshed out with a little more detail on the characters, the world-building, and the background situation. We don’t know the reason for or the exact nature of the peril the characters and their world are in. I felt we only had a superficial acquaintance with most of the main characters and their lives when the book ended. The story seems to just stop – not in cliffhanger fashion but as if the book’s last half was cut off.

I have also struggled to categorize this book. When the series is further along, I might have a better idea, but I think it will have a wide appeal – adults, YA, and middle-grades. It honestly has the feel of an epic middle-age series (except for the few swear words, drinking, and some frank mentions of sexual activity.) I can see this as a great read-aloud book. It also has a YA feel with the theme of searching for one’s identity and because of the main characters’ ages and life stages.

I recommend The New World, with reservations, to readers that enjoy a YA SciFi story without a lot of discussion of science and hardware. I would also recommend to friends that they wait until at least the next book in the series was available before giving it a read. Having said this, I will be following this author so that I can buy this next book to see what happens next.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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Edge of Light (Edge of Light, #1) by Jay Antani

Heart-stopping at times, heart-breaking at others, Edge of Light is a real action-adventure!

Dev Harrison and his two best friends, Abby and Conner, are in the bleachers watching the game when a meteor-like object suddenly streaks across the sky, impacting the Earth in the near distance. Everyone is stunned and disoriented when a bright light explodes around them and a massive BOOM! erupts. Dev and Abby become separated from Conner, but eventually, all three escape the ensuing chaos at the field and make it safely back to their respective homes. But this is just the beginning of the end of the world as they know it.

Soon strange, violent sick people begin showing up at the local hospital where Dev’s mother works as a doctor keeping her working around the clock. Dev is desperately worried about his mother; it’s been just the two of them since his physicist father mysteriously disappeared a decade earlier when Dev was only a child.

Now Dev is having confusingly realistic dreams of his father. In it, he shows Dev the location of a mysterious box hidden in the mountains near the vacation cabin they visited as a family before his disappearance.

On his own and unable to see or talk to his mother, Dev sets out with his two friends in his father’s old Outback to see if there is any truth to the dream, hoping it holds the answers to what happened to his father all those years ago. But with the sickness spreading through Los Angeles and the populace beginning to panic, and strange alien-like creatures roaming the countryside, the three friends’ trip to put Dev’s dream to rest becomes a lot more than a simple buddy road trip.

What an adventure! From its exciting opening scene to the closing pages, I was hooked and stayed up way past bedtime to read as much and as long as I could.

The three friends, Dev Harrison, Abby Mendes, and Conner, play nicely off one another, and I was utterly invested in their quest to follow Dev’s reoccurring dream about his father. Dev, the main character in the story’s present time, is smart and a good kid with just the right amount of teenage insecurity and vulnerability that has you rooting for him throughout the book. Conner, the buddy, smart and cynical and sassy, doesn’t ever succumb to being the third wheel to the Dev-Abby relationship, and that’s nice. I especially liked that the author developed Abby to be an independent “force-to-be-reckoned-with” young woman. She’s an able member of the trio, no Shrinking Violet, waiting to be saved. She was the one doing much of the saving in almost all instances. She adds positively to the story’s advancement but that it felt natural and in character for her to do so.

I enjoyed that this story had several tropes that I love in apocalyptic/dystopian tales: the teenaged, strong yet vulnerable protagonists, alien influences, humans transformed into not-quite-humans, everyday people transformed into crazy, grasping maniacs, evil master corporations, and government corruption. Each element merges into and supports the others seamlessly to create a great action-filled reading experience. (And this is just book 1, there’s more to come!)

The creatures or “crawlers” are a frightening element as they creep around the periphery of everything and everywhere Dev, Conner, and Abby go and do. They seem to always be just out of sight but waiting to jump out and attack, keeping tensions high and nerves taut. Scarier still, though, is their encounter with the fine folk of “Freetown.” I held my breath as I quickly turned pages while they were there. I guess I thought I could “help” get them through town faster that way!

And if you’re a reader that likes the hardcore science of a science fiction story, this book has you covered. Numerous topics are touched on, but this is done in such an understandable way that it will satisfy the nerd inside each of us without bogging down a great adventure or driving off a reader that likes a softer sci-fi feel.

I also highly recommend this book to readers that enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic tales featuring young adult protagonists. I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review of Edge of Light by Jay Antani for Reedsy Discovery!

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The Dark Portal by Kyle Belote

Dark, atmospheric, and unsettling first-contact tale!

When Dr. Darrovan Weiv, an alien theorist, was unceremoniously dragged from his bed in the dead of night, he thought his life was over, another casualty of the secretive and oppressive government. Instead, he was taken to a secret research facility harboring an alien presence or “miasma,” with whom the project’s director wanted Darrovan to try and communicate. Surprisingly, Darrovan’s first attempt yields immediate results but perhaps not the results for which everyone was hoping.

The Dark Portal is an eerie and atmospheric tale of alien first-contact. The main character’s unease and fear oozed off the page and created a deliciously unsettling story. You just KNOW something’s not right, and things are not what they seem. Even the complex layout of the mysterious facility or “Dome” leaves you a little off-balance, and that creates some emotional havoc later during the height of the action.

I absolutely loved the slowly evolving and subtle depictions of Darrovan and his coworkers. Let’s just say there were no humans harmed in the making of this story. Additionally, there are enough sidebars and subplots mentioned in the story that, if explored, could expand this to a full-length novel. I recommend The Dark Portal to Sci-Fi readers that enjoy the theme of alien-first-contact, non-human characters, and plenty of dark, scary, fast-paced action.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving a copy from the author.

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Engage at Dawn: First Contact by Edward M. Hochsmann

Engage at Dawn: First Contact is an exciting and engaging, action-packed story that is easy-to-read and hard to put down!

When the Coast Guard cutter, Kauai, is dispatched to investigate a disabled sailing vessel off the Florida Keys, they find an abandoned, derelict cabin sloop, the High Dawn, deck awash, and kept afloat by the masses of water-tight packages of illegal drugs in the hold. There is no evidence of a collision or an explosion but the ship has been wrecked, the mast broken completely away and gone, and there is a days-old corpse floating in the flooded cabin. However, the starboard side is crushed in like it had slammed against a flat, brick wall, and with the massive amount of damage the High Dawn cannot be towed to shore without breaking apart. The Kauai is ordered to stand by and guard the wreck until the arrival of the buoy tender Poplar that is equipped to remove the wreck properly. In addition, a chopper has been sent to retrieve the deceased and deliver a top-secret VIP passenger.

Dr. Peter Simmons with the Defense Intelligence Agency, is an astrophysicist. Over the past three days, he and his team have been searching for the cause of a gravitational wave which they believe may be the arrival of an extraterrestrial spaceship. He inspects the condition of the High Dawn to determine if its wrecking may be related to this same event. The Kauai and her crew are to support Dr. Simmons in his investigation as soon as they are relieved from oversight of the High Dawn.

With dangerous drug smugglers hunting for them and their missing product and Dr. Simmons’ top-secret search for the location of a possible alien spacecraft, the cutter’s captain, Lieutenant Samuel Powell and his XO, Lieutenant Junior Grade Benjamin Wyporek valiantly strive to fulfill their varied missions while keeping the Kauai and her crew safe and sound. This exciting story unfolds in these two exciting, interwoven strands: the search for a possible extraterrestrial vehicle and drug smugglers trying to recover their ship full of product that was accidentally destroyed when the alien ship materialized near it in waters off Key West. As I had previously read the prequel to this book, Vis Major, I knew some of what to expect in the extraterrestrial plotline, and I almost squealed with delight when the “old beachcomber” and shack finally appeared. The drug smugglers’ plot is also exciting and very intense. I realized I was holding my breath at several points along the way, such as when the crew was working with a bomb and while Frankle and Bell were watching the path to the escape boat at the terrorists’ hideout awaiting the “GO” signal.

I loved the peek inside the Coast Guard’s operations and appreciate the “civilianization” of some of the dialogue to make it easier to understand what was going on. There were so many new and interesting things mentioned along this line that I googled quite a few phrases or object names for more information. For example, the mention of the ‘fouled anchor’ incorporated in the Kauai’s crest is a very familiar image, yet one that has its own story and tradition I’d never known. The author writes excellent banter and includes some fun yet cynical and slightly irreverent jesting regarding military nomenclature.

I also appreciated the depiction of the Kauai’s crew as robust individuals with lives and concerns outside their duty stations. The crew is comprised of both male and female members, and I thought the various working relationships were natural and true-to-life. I quickly connected with the characters and empathized with how they worried about balancing home life with their careers.

ENGAGE AT DAWN: FIRST CONTACT is very well written, which made this exciting and action-packed story easy-to-read and hard to put down. It can be read solo, but I highly recommend starting with the prequel, Vis Major, which is the flipside story (the aliens’ point-of-view); it is excellent. I was delighted to see that there is a sneak preview of the next book in the series, Engage at Dawn: Seize and Destroy, included at the end of this volume. So, YAY! More to come! I recommend this book and series to readers that enjoy military adventure stories, Coast Guard-themed fiction, and first contact tales.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advance Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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