Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars

Review Source:  Joshua Patton Indie Reader

Verdict: A fun science-fiction thriller with both unique and familiar concepts, MICROMIUM delivers a satisfying story with memorable characters you don’t mind spending time alone with on a desolate planet, millions of miles from Earth.

MICROMIUM by David Gittlin is a delightful science-fiction adventure set in a near-future where a possible clean energy source from Mars has captured humanity’s hope. A team of scientists travel to the red planet to perform an audit of the privately-run mining operation. The team does their job a little too well, uncovering a secret that the company was desperate to keep hidden.

The story that unfolds in this novella is very compelling and carries the reader along with a fast-paced tale that isn’t difficult to follow. The characters are at their most interesting when they are working to solve the central problem of the book and working together as a team. When major twists are thrown their way, readers are eager to follow along with the team wherever they’re headed. There is drama and excitement, and all of it serves the larger story.

The story treads on well-worn science-fiction ground.   is a mysterious new substance that promises great advancements but has a dark side. Also, there’s sinister corporation claiming to work for the public good but with something to hide. Gittlin employs these in a fantastic way. Sci-fi can be weird and have concepts difficult for readers to latch on to, so these familiar touchstones help readers through the story by giving them familiar footing at times. How these elements weave themselves into the larger narrative is very satisfying. The settings and the players are original and just familiar enough that readers find themselves readily able to picture it all in their mind’s eye.

The decisions the characters make feel authentic as we learn more about them and their situation, even if some of those characters seem to exist simply because they must. Some of the interpersonal scenes fail to land as well as others, with characters seemingly thrust together simply because the circumstances of the plot demand it. It’s not unrealistic that a small-group of people going through a high-stress situation would form bonds and grow close quickly. So, while this may be by design, readers may not invest as deeply in those relationships as they should. In one intimate scene, the characters seem to acknowledge this, that they’re only together because of circumstance. This is clearly a choice and not a narrative oversight.

Nonetheless, these characters’ stories are full of gripping drama and very real stakes. In sci-fi, it can be difficult to cut your characters off from the help they might need in a technologically-advanced society. Stuck on a planet millions of miles from that help, where the very atmosphere is deadly, solves that problem in a very real way. Like other recent stories focused on the red planet, the threat of being stranded there is ever-present, adding another layer of stakes to an already high-tension story.

Like all good science fiction, MICROMIUM features both a specific narrative that is enthralling and a larger universe that seems ripe for future storytelling. Many writers fall prey to focusing more on the latter element than providing a resolution for the former that is both complete and satisfying. Gittlin does not. The story he sets out to tell is resolved very clearly, but how that ending unfolds opens the possibility for more stories about both these characters and the world in which they live. Readers are left wanting more, but not because the story that drew them into the book was left unfinished.

 

BUY THE BOOK

Scarlet Ambrosia

Review Source: Midwest Book Review Diane Donovan Senior e-Book Reviewer

There's a relatively new but rapidly-expanding genre on the market called “urban fantasy,” that has as its older sibling the vampire novel, born of Anne Rice's first book decades ago and now a genre in its own right. And then, there's the classic vampire struggle between darkness and light—a struggle that immerses unwitting victims, vampires, and survivors in a world dominated by blood-lust.

With so many vampire novels on the market today, one could wonder at the need for yet another; but Scarlet Ambrosia is a vampire story of a different color, seasoned not so much by the drama of blood-letting as by the more universal themes of self-discovery, human nature, and redemption. Ultimately this is what makes or breaks any genre; especially one such as the urban fantasy or vampire story, which too often tends to eschew self-examination in favor of high drama. And this is just one of the reasons why Scarlet Ambrosia stands out from the urban fantasy genre crowd.

Sure, protagonist Devon's outward battle is against an ancient evil vampire, Egon Schiller, but it's also against himself. Devon is no stranger to the dark forces within him after years of therapy, but the darkness he's confronting now proves far beyond his wildest dreams.

Scarlet Ambrosia's inner light shines forth: a light that starts with Devon's inner world and expands to embrace the wider concern of disappearances on the city streets.

This part is predictable as Devon confronts an undercurrent of blood lust and vampires in Miami's underworld. What is less predictable is his foray into the drug world in search of evidence that will support an international investigation into one of Egon's illegal activities, fostered by his encounter with the sly, alluring Mathilde, who harbors her own secret agenda.

There's a suggestion of romance between Devon and Mathilde that's evident from their first encounter but which is suppressed in their growing focus on greater goals, which are developed as the quest progresses, as evidenced in Mathilde's statement: 

"Vanderling fears what Schiller will do every day he roams the earth more than he fears what might happen to us if we fail.” “It’s ironic how Schiller’s existence can matter more in the scheme of things than yours or mine,” he said. “When we first met, I told you I could handle Egon. That was another lie to help you feel more secure in your new situation."

There is acknowledgement of the forces of light and darkness that occasionally rise up, unfettered, to try to take over individuals and the world. And as Devon becomes involved in kidnapping and worse, he finds all facets of his life are called into question with a series of decisions that reach out to affect even his relationship with his beloved parents.

As lies, secrecy, and murders build, Devon finds himself paying for the bad decisions of others, and must come to admit his own inner nature before he can make a proper decision on honing his skills for either greater good or evil.

The web of lies builds and threatens to immerse everything Devon holds dear, eventually spilling over into something greater than he's ever known.

Scarlet Ambrosia is not your usual vampire story. Its intrigue, romance, and thriller writing are all wrapped up in a bigger picture. It offers much food for thought in the course of following Devon's evolutionary process and decisions, and it's not a light-hearted romp through a vampire's realm, as so many such novels provide.

As such, it's especially recommended for readers seeking more depth and undercurrents of philosophy in their literary choices. How does a protagonist not become the evil he fights in the process of battle? The classic vampire struggle between darkness and light just assumed a new cloak of complexity here—and wears it well.
 

Buy the book

 

Three Days to Darkness

Review Source: Midwest Book Review, Diane Donovan, e-Book Reviewer

The magic number is three. Three days to save the world. Three people to help Darius McPherson succeed. And three important life lessons to learn in the process.

The setting is a war being planned in Heaven itself by a reluctant warrior too young to be in Heaven in the first place, and the mission involves saving humanity from its own follies: no mean assignment for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting and suddenly tasked with saving the world.

Three Days to Darkness is about magic on many levels: the incongruity of Heaven and its purposes, the absurdities of Mankind, and the passionate concerns of a boy faced with apocalypse on a scale that moves beyond singular death and into the destruction of humanity itself.

As if this wasn't enough, add demons and a road that literally leads to Hell (albeit paved with good intentions) and you have a fast-paced thriller novel that defies the usual genre definitions of fantasy, thriller or action piece and creeps into the realm of the impossible.

Three Days to Darkness darkens rapidly as Darius investigates company clinical trials, angel operatives, and deadly courses of action, spicing his approach with a cocky blend of offense and defense that presumes a degree of training he actually lacks: "Crooking his arm, Darius lifted his hand just below chin level with all five fingers splayed. He reminded himself of David Carradine as Caine in a “Kung Fu” TV episode. A more experienced angel operative would certainly prepare to attack with “way more” subtlety, he figured."

Doses of humor are tossed in for effective comic relief as Darius questions why a Heaven governed by the concept of free will would intervene in the affairs of man - and why it would choose to do so for one event and not another: "Darius sat perfectly still for a while with his hands in his lap before speaking again. “I’m confused,” he said with a solemn expression. “On the one hand, you say everything that happens to a man is the result of free will, and on the other hand, you send me to Earth to stop a pill from going on the market. I don’t get it.” “Good observation, Darius. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s more like a distinction. We have to pick our fights carefully. We try not to interfere with the operation of human free will. We sat by and watched in horror, for example, when Roman soldiers crucified Christ and terrorists flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers. But there are times when we must take action, when a worldwide catastrophe could result from human failure, to put it in a shorthand manner. We intervened during the two world wars and the Cuban Missile crisis, to cite a few recent cases. We have also been involved when the psychological, moral or spiritual evolution of the species is at risk. A literal example of such a case was our influence on the outcome of the famous ‘Scopes Trial.’”

What lessons will Darius learn in his latest incarnation as a new angel? He has only three days to absorb them - or witness the end of all days.

Three Days to Darkness is a fast-paced, vivid read that incorporates all the elements of a superior mystery, thriller, and fantasy. It's certainly not a portrait of a predictable afterlife, a conventional Heaven, or a banal post-life mission. All these facets merge to create a uniquely involving story blending amusing moments with engrossing encounters between disparate forces; each with their own special interests and agendas.

And Darius? He's in it for the ride, and takes readers along with him in an unexpected journey through Heaven, Hell, and beyond.