Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Joy Ride
by Jude-Marie Green

Barnegat Inn
by Brian Biswas

Captain Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers
by Milo James Fowler

by Michael Hodges

Discord in Paradise
by Leslie Lupien

(225-50) Agnes
by Mark Ayling

It’s a Long Road to the Sky Train
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Not Her Kind
by Peter Wood

Down Courthouse Wash
by Steven L. Peck

Blink Twice
by Rebecca Birch

by Sean Monaghan


Mad Max, R2-D2 Return
by Adam Paul

Sixteen Shades of Ice
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Germ Warfare on a Monster Scale

THE WORST OF SCIENCE, MOTHER NATURE and military secrets make Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s “Extinction Horizon” the most horrifying novel I’ve read all year. Yes, it’s only January, but there’s enough creepy, crawly, icky stuff here to last me all of 2015 and beyond. Normally I avoid mutant monsters, explicit violence, apocalyptic drama and conspiracy theories, but Smith lured me with a single word: epigenetics. Add virology, American soldiers in Vietnam, genetic manipulation, and dozens of five-star reviews in the first month of its release—ooh, and an author bio of a cute young athlete who saves cats from death row in his free time—and suddenly I’m motivated to try subjects I automatically avoid. Smith’s novel passed my chapter-one test, which is no small feat when nine out of every ten new releases fail to hook me and keep me.

The story opens with a quote from Stephen Hawking: “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” Seems to me Hawking does an awful lot of thinking about how vulnerable humanity is, and Earth, and the universe at large. “Artificial Intelligence Could Spell The End Of The Human Race” is the latest alarm from Chicken Little, oops, I mean Hawking (“Business Insider,” December 2, 2014).

No, I’m not an optimist the way teenagers are with their delusions of being invincible and immortal. My idea of flirting with danger is not washing my hands a second time after a trip to the store. I still blink in disbelief at Asian foreign exchange students wearing face masks in the Midwest, and they were doing that before this year’s epic flu season. If they read novels like “Extinction Horizon,” forget the face mask; nothing says "gird your loins” or “safety precautions" like a HazMat suit. In public. In the classroom. On the sordid sidewalks. (Remember, you saw it here first.) For $35, you can buy your own Ebola suit—but I’ll be sequestered in my own home, thank you, breathing free, devouring escapist fiction.

The first cold snow of December had me on the treadmill with “Extinction Horizons.” Smith takes us to Vietnam, 1968. A platoon of U.S. soldiers inject themselves with a new serum, VX-99, which is supposed to negate the effects of whatever chemicals biological warfare might deliver. Things do not go according to plan.

Fast forward almost half a century. Anyone who survived VX-99 is just another gruesome military secret, but now someone wants a sample of the original serum. Trouble is, it’s in a well-hidden WHO field hospital whose researchers are sidetracked trying to contain a severe outbreak of Ebola, not so affectionately known as Slate Wiper. A man goes in to collect samples for researchers at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, but he never comes out. He and all of Building 8 fall silent. Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his kick-ass team, codenamed Ghost, are summoned to the scene.

Beckham knows little of chemical and biological weapons and even less about virology, but he believes America is “under constant threat of a chemical or biological attack.” He takes great pride in leading an elite team that exists “for the sole purpose of making sure the average civilian had no idea just how close they were to the apocalypse.” These guys are beyond good. Team Ghost “could prep for whatever bullshit the world had to throw at them in just minutes” and “take care of business the old fashioned way.” His world sounds so simple. “Drop. Take out target. Repeat. They had the process down like a well-oiled machine that never broke.” They always survive grueling missions that would leave other men dead. “They were the best of the best. Beckham’s team was America’s first line of defense that no one knew existed.”

Readers will come to know and love each awesome member of this elite team, and you know what that means. Beckham has never lost anyone and he’ll die before anyone takes down one of his men, a red flag waving if ever a novelist waved one.

Sure enough, the invincible Ghosts start falling in battle against a once-human enemy. The experiment-gone-wrong with VX-99 has escaped the lab, hooked up with the already panic-inducing Ebola virus, and infected some of the smartest, most useful people on Earth. It pains me to read about good, hard-working, brilliant scientists and superb soldiers cut down by some ridiculous accident.

It pains me even more when a rogue virus turns good people into mindless killing machines. I wanted to hurl the novel across the room at this point, but I paid too much for my Kindle Fire. Also, I had to hear what the man in charge of the original experiment, Colonel Gibson, would tell Beckham. (You’ll have to slog through the blood and gore yourself if you want to know.) When VX-99 meets Ebola in Building 8, an epigenetic fluke activates long-dormant commands in our DNA to grow claws and an insatiable appetite for bloody, raw meat. Team Ghost has the added mission of keeping virologist Dr. Kate Lovato alive long enough to find a cure.

Halfway into the novel, I was so grossed out, I set it aside and turned to a silly romance to refuel my powers of denial. Aha, here’s one that offers its own fresh new twist, not epigenetics, but a heroine who’s a gaming geek. Just what the doctor ordered: a quick escape into Game Girl’s ridiculous crisis—auctioning her virginity, at age 22, to make a political point and pay her way through med school. Phew! That beats Beckham and Dr. Lovato dodging monsters and tainted blood splatters while the fate of the entire human race is at stake, which keeps them from noticing how much they like each other, much less ... well, you know.

Oh no, an hour on the treadmill with 50 Shades of Gaming Geeks, and the winning bidder still hasn’t claimed his prize. He keeps dragging it out. I’ll have to continue reading. Finallextinctiony, seventy five minutes in: “I’m going to slide it in slowly,” he says. “I’m going to watch your face when you take it in. I’m going to fuck you until you scream. And then I’m going to make you beg for it again. And again.”

But he doesn’t, the damn tease. I might have to go back to mutant Ebola monsters chewing up good people and squirting toxic blood all over the globe.

Or I could start the next novel in my queue.

Oh no. This isn’t a coming of age novel (a genre I love)—it’s a damned political rant. A twelve-year-old girl thinks, “I wonder how many daddies would still be alive if guns and motorcycles didn’t exist.”

Yeah. Add bacon, beer, cigars, cars, influenza, Ebola, terrorists, and a million other things that contribute to human mortality. Go read Stephen Hawkings, honey. Look at books like Terry Irving’s “Courier,” with that smokin’ hot BMW-riding Vietnam vet on the cover. Now there’s a conspiracy theory of a novel, replete with corrupt politicians and military madness. Watergate was just a smoke screen while Nixon sent millions of young men to die in Vietnam for the sake of his presidential campaign? Vampires, zombies and mutant monsters just can’t compete with real-life horror.

Back I went to “Extinction Horizons.” Kate (Dr. Lovato) can hardly grasp “that just days ago she had been busy working on a cure for the new Ebola strain ripping through western Africa. Now the country was crumbling around her, and she didn’t even know what they were dealing with.” The mutant virus has escaped Building 8 (oh, come on, you knew it would) and spread to Chicago. From there, it travels faster than the flu virus in Stephen King’s “The Stand.” Kate’s boss and co-workers fall. She has to stop the virus before humans become exinct.

Beckham misses the good old days when roadside bombs and jihadist maniacs were the worst he had to worry about. Oh no. Another one of the good guys just got infected. He transforms so quickly, Beckham barely has time to notice something amiss in the soldier: “His posture was completely off, like his bones and joints had been repositioned by a shitty chiropractor. Dried blood clung to the man’s cheeks, forming a barrier around his swollen lips. They puckered and then made a sickening pop.” Beckham must shoot his own comrade. “Bloody mist exploded from the man’s open lips ... and his brains peppered the concrete behind him.”

How many pages of gore does it take to show us how horrifying a pandemic could be? Eh. The science dialogues are riveting, so I’ll keep reading.

Eww, another person transforms, and her black stream of projectile vomit spews onto an officer’s face. Those Ebola suits won’t work if the least little rip or tear occurs in the throes of battle. Okay, no problem, the monster woman straddles the officer and bites off his nose. One less monster to worry about now, right?

That nasty scene drove me straight back to the 22-year-old virgin. She’s a movie-star beautiful med student who also blogs about misogyny in video games. Hey, this is educational. Of course I should keep reading. More males play video games than females, she blogs, yet chicks get more free stuff as beginning characters than their male counterparts. Take the sexy, scantily clad elf named SmokinHawt versus a gangly tree elf male named Poindexter. Nine times out of ten, she receives whatever she requests. Seven times out of ten, he’s ignored. “SmokinHawt got gold and pats on the back, flirtatious gestures, and in-game messages,” but “Poindexter was neglected and died approximately thirteen times.” For some reason, that had me laughing out loud. Romance novels do have redeeming virtues if you skip the graphic descriptions of restaurants, beach houses, designer wardrobes, and toned abs. Sure, there were no surprises in this story, but it kept me turning pages for another seventy-five uninterrupted minutes on the treadmill.

All the annoying tropes of the romance genre had me ready for more of Dr. Kate Lovato hunched over a microscope, billions of human lives depending on her to find a cure for the bloody new mystery-plague. “Six of the seven genes were the same known genes of Ebola,” Kate observes. She recognizes the first three, “used to control transcription, replication, and packaging into the new virions.” The fourth gene is different. Ooh, she’s making progress. If this were a romance, she’d be distracted by visions of Beckham without an Ebola suit or anything but his birthday suit. I guess there’s a reason more authors don’t fuse the best of several genres into one brilliant novel.

In this case, however, I wish Smith had devoted more attention to the science fiction and less to the horror and thriller genres. Could a virus really cause people to mutate so drastically and so quickly?

I checked in with E.E. Giorgi, full-time geneticist and author of “Chimeras,” whose hero is like no other detective on Earth, thanks to a fluke of epigenetics. It so happened that she had already read “Extinction Horizons” (I thought I’d found Nick the cute cat-savior first!), and she confirmed that while a virus couldn’t possibly cause such abrupt and drastic changes, viruses and the environment in general do affect our genes in disruptive ways.

“Of course, a virus wouldn’t cause a person to mutate into a monster, but any viral infection can tap into those delicate mechanisms that regulate which genes are on and which are off in our cells. For example, there is evidence that disorders like Crohn disease and schizophrenia could be triggered by a viral infection in individuals who already have a genetic predisposition,” she explained.

“I love that epigenetics is finally coming to fiction,” she emailed me in December. “Three years ago I told all the acquisition editors that it was going to happen, but they didn’t believe me.”

Breakthrough science should have their full attention now. You know the tide Giorgi predicted has officially turned when a best-selling author like Nicholas Sansbury Smith takes a little detour from Simon and Schuster to launch his epigenetic horror/science fiction thriller as an indie. Giorgi interviewed Smith about this at her blog. His first novel “Orbs,” self-published in 2013, quickly topped the Amazon bestseller lists and attracted the attention of Simon451. Working with Simon and Schuster was a good experience, he says, and the novel scored hundreds of five-star reviews.

Book two, “Extinction Edge,” is due March 2015; Book three, “Extinction Age,” Fall 2015. Smith is still putting some finishing touches on the third and final installment of the “Orbs” series, due out in March of 2015.

With another standalone novel in the works for Simon451, I don’t know how Smith makes time for triathlons, family, and cats on death row. From the nonstop action and fast pacing of his stories, it’s obvious he has an abundance of adrenalin and imagination.

Not for the faint-hearted, and not my genre, this book is a compelling tale that earns its place in the hallowed aisles of science fiction. (“Extinction Horizon,” Nicholas S. Smith, Amazon Digital Services) 4 stars —Carol Kean


Aliens Invade Mobile Devices

TURN-BASED GAMES HAVE BEEN AROUND for almost thirty years. There are a few popular series out there like Sid Meier’s “Civilization,” “Heroes of Might and Magic,” and “Panzer Generals.” Whether it is the feel of playing a board game or the fact that a lot of thought and strategy have to be put into each move, people can’t seem to get enough. The only problem is you have to walk away from your computer at some point; with a mobile device, you never have to stop playing.

“XCOM” (sometimes spelled X-COM), from Firaxis Games, has been around almost as long as turn-based strategy games. The latest version, “XCOM: Enemy Within,” was released as an expansion pack to the game “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” on the PC and as a stand-alone for seventh generation consoles. Just recently it was ported to mobile and released as a stand-alone for iOS and Android mobile platforms. The game has created a nice little world; even if you are not an existing player or fan you can appreciate this latest edition.

You are the commander who sends troops into battle against invading alien forces. You can have as few troops as one, or as many as six (seven on covert missions where you also control a spy). The view of the map you are given is basically the sightline of your soldiers. You can move troops around, in and out of cover. Each troop has several options: attack enemies within their sightline, xcomhunker down to provide additional defense against attacks, or overwatch to shoot at any enemy that leaves cover. Each specialized soldier provides additional options, such as rockets with the “heavy” soldiers. By moving your troops across the board, you attempt to wipe out all enemy soldiers or achieve a set goal of capturing something, all the while keeping your troops safe. If you lose troops you can’t replace them unless you are back at HQ.

The game starts off fairly simple. Although there is a tutorial, the general idea is easy to grasp. But you don’t realize how important it is to keep your troops alive until you get back to HQ; there is a finite number of troops, and it costs money to replace them and time to retrain them. As the game progresses and soldiers complete missions, they gain rank and new abilities. You can have up to seventy soldiers, but I found it difficult to manage more than twenty-five. The map seems a bit repetitive at first. You can dissect dead aliens, capture live aliens, and collect their technology to use in your labs to build better weapons and even better soldiers.

Along with the maps where the war takes place, players also have access to HQ with research labs—there you can invest in various types of new weaponry, armor, and genetic augmentation to give your troops skills, such as a healing ability or better aim. The engineering department allows you to add facilities to enhance HQ, build mobile assault weapons to use in place of troops, or to transform your soldiers into cyborgs, fitted with Mech-suits. From HQ you can allocate funds to various research projects, and track which countries stay in or leave the XCOM project. There is also a barracks where you manage your troops, change their weapons and armor, award them medals (that give them bonus abilities), or give them further training.

The maps do offer a good variety of locations, but after a few hours you play the same few over and over again. The big difference is the escalating opposition from the aliens. At first you can kill them in a few shots, but as the game progresses you are confronted with some that can kill your best soldiers with one or two hits. You are also able to shoot UFOs out of the sky, which feels like those old 1970s arcade games. The covert missions are a little different but they only come in two scenarios. You also have the option of assaulting the alien base, but make sure you are ready because the aliens will assault your base in retaliation.

Overall, this game is tons of fun and can easily consume your life. Because it has been ported to mobile devices, you can now play it while waiting in lines, in bed when you can’t sleep, or when you are on the recumbent bike. There are very short load times between levels and the cut scenes look like they belong on a seventh generation console.

There are a few problems with it. When complicated games are ported to mobile devices, the first concern on everyone’s mind is the controls. The controls for XCOM work well on most levels, but there are some where the controls do not respond as expected. Another issue is battery life. I played the game on a Kindle HDX and it depleted the battery pretty quickly. Of course this will vary depending on the device, but it is something to keep in mind. And finally—difficulty. The game was surprisingly difficult, even on the easy setting. Basically, look to be challenged and make sure you know where the bad guys are before ending your turn.

This game offers hours of fun, with very few problems. It costs much less than the console version, and you can take it everywhere. (“XCOM: Enemy Within,” Firaxis Games, iOS, Android) 4stars —Adam Armstrong


Off of This World

DO YOU LIKE SHORT STORIES? I like short stories, and one place you can find several of them, besides magazines, is in an anthology.

Anthologies are something apart from everything else. They are a collection of short stories, at least two or three novellas by different authors and I don’t know what the ceiling is on short stories. What you get with an anthology is like a sampler box of chocolates. Read one of these, then taste one of those. Here’s a different one I found. This anthology, the one I just finished, is something apart from other anthologies. It has a theme like the others on the shelf but that’s where the similarity ends. What grabbed me when I saw the book was not the cover, though it’s a compelling one, but the title. Better said, subtitle. “Leaving Earth.” That one forced me to take a closer look. I had to know. Now I do.

Twenty-five really good short stories about leaving Earth, of all things. Did that make sense? Never mind. The authors have done justice to the genre of science fiction, too. Some “hard” science fiction and some not so hard, but all great visionsstories. I didn’t know an imagination could fly that high. I can’t review each story because that would turn into a book about a book. Suffice to say, all of them are beautifully written; every one a winner on its own.

One of the other nice things about this anthology is that the stories are short enough to read one on a coffee break, maybe a couple at lunch. I do recommend that the book be read in pieces because, if read at one sitting, the mind will be subjected to overload. One or two at a time is the way to go with this one.

The first story, “Tumbleweed,” was written by Carrol Fix, who also edited the book. It was an interesting story with a sharp edge on it and I can tell you that if I see anything else by this author, I’ll definitely grab it. It gave a whole new dimension to what leaving Earth is—and isn’t. I found “Retribution” by Harry Alexiou to be an incredible product of a soaring imagination and dark humor that caused me to tremble—just a little. The writing was smooth, as is true of all these stories. “Godzilla and Icarus” by Amos Parker was a real hoot with unusual strength in the telling. “Time is Up” by S.M. Kraftchak had me scratching my head for days. What an experience into strange that one was. Each of these stories gets its characters off Earth in its own way, and each adventure is unique.

Twenty-five wonderful and wild stories by twenty-three capable authors. Every one of them was more than worth the short time it took to read them, and a couple of the stories are still churning around in my head.

Almost forgot ... the book is “Visions: Leaving Earth,” edited by Carrol Fix. It is available in e-book and paperback. The stories in it are worth the read. I’ll be looking for new stories from these authors in the future. (“Visions: Leaving Earth,” Edited by Carrol Fix, Lillicat Publishers) 4starsAnthony Pinter