The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks, by William F. Aicher: A Review

A story set in the near future but strong in elements from folk tale and mythology.

A world made uninhabitable by pesticides and dirty bombs, genetically-engineered crops and pollution, and within this world, the inevitable division of human society into classes, factions, revolutionaries and those who turn their back on society. A world where science is both savior and slayer. This is the world David Sparks wakes into, to be immediately threatened by a man with a chain saw.

The story, while set in the near future, is strong in elements from folk tale and mythology: the dangerous wild wood, the wise hermit, the ‘wizards’ who abuse their power; the glass castle where food is abundant; the concept of the sacred twins. Rich in world-building, asking questions about the limits of science and the definition of humanity, The Unfortunate Expiration of Mr David S. Sparks follows the protagonist’s physical and intellectual journeys to understand the world he is in – and who he is.

Is the book successful in delineating these quests? Perhaps not entirely. World-building takes precedence over character-building, and there are times when too much information is handed to the reader in a chunk of exposition. There are enough hints leading to the climax to keep a reader wondering if they’ve worked the story out or not, and the overall idea is compelling.

Lands of Dust, by John Triptych: A Release-Day Review

As a fast-paced adventure s in the ‘magical child’ sub-genre of fantasy/sci-fi, this is a good story.

Lands of Dust is the first book in a new series by prolific indie author John Triptych.  In a dying world of sand and dust, where humans cling to life by farming algae and fungi in the barren wastes, a child is found unconscious in the sands.  He has no memory of life beyond the torture he endured at the hands of the Magi, and all the mind-probing skills of the village Striga, the wisewoman with psi powers, cannot find out more.

Prophecies exist that foretell this child, and in the course of this first story in the series, the village is challenged to give up the child; the price will be their lives if they disobey.  Can Miri, the Striga, herself an orphan of the sands, the village ‘teller’ (the keeper of the village’s history), and a young brother and sister keep the boy safe, and fulfill the destiny outlined in the prophecy?

Triptych is a good story-teller.  As a fast-paced adventure s in the ‘magical child’ sub-genre of fantasy/sci-fi, this is a good story.  I wanted to know what happened to Rion, the child; I wanted to see how the prophecy played out.  For sheer enjoyment of a story, I’m giving it 4 stars.

But while Lands of Dust is a good story, it’s not particularly well-written.  The world building is good, lots of background; the pacing is good, but the flow of many sentences is middling and there are frequently places where less verbosity would have benefited the writing.   Action sequences often end weakly.  There are questionable uses of commas.  Does this matter?  Not if the adventure is your primary reason for reading.  But to me, it does.  I continue to hold self-published books to the same standards as traditionally published books.  So, for the competency of writing, I’m giving it 3 stars.  Overall, I’m rating it at 3.5, which will translate on Goodreads and Amazon as 4.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


The Dirt Walkers, by David Joel Stevenson: A Review

For those readers wanting to know more about what happened to Jonah and Talitha, the book serves to tell that story.

Just about a year ago, I reviewed David Joel Stevenson’s book The Surface’s End, a young-the-dirt-walkersadult dystopian story. I gave it four stars.  I’ve just finished the sequel, The Dirt Walkers.

Sequels are notoriously difficult, especially if the author did not plan a series from the beginning.  (As I as a writer know, being nearly done the first draft of the sequel to my own book Empire’s Daughter.) The Dirt Walkers continues the story of Jonah, the boy from the wildlands, and Talitha, the girl from the underground city, as they move toward the consummation of their relationship; as well, the story considers the inevitable tensions created for the community and for Talitha as they adjust to each other, and especially the aftershocks and consequences of Talitha’s defection from the underground community.

For those readers wanting to know more about what happened to Jonah and Talitha, the book serves to tell that story.  But in comparison with the first, which I described as ‘compulsively readable’, The Dirt Walkers pales.  Too much of the story is told to us, rather than shown in the actions of characters, and some of what I saw as the more important aspects – Talitha’s culture shock, for one – are glossed over, mentioned but not really dealt with.  Perhaps because more of the action of the story is concerned with what is happening underground, not enough attention is given to the people of the wildlands.  Talitha and Jonah are almost minor characters in this book, and I found the easy resolution  (I can’t say more without spoilers) difficult to fully believe.

Overall, I’m giving The Dirt Walkers three stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.