Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peace Bug
by Stephen L. Antczak

Shipping Error
by Robert Dawson

In the Garden With the Little Eaters
by L Chan

Species of Revenge
by Lance J. Mushung

To Live if it Kills Me
by Andrew Darlington

Freddy Norberg’s Fantastic Flight
by Finry

Death Egg
by Kim Daniels

by Sean Monaghan

Shorter Stories

Love in the Time of Alien Invasion
by Samuel Marzioli

They Call Me Wizard
by Robert Lowell Russell

Reverse Logic
by Sierra July


Let’s Fry Chicken Little
by Carol Kean

UFOs and Rockets
by Preston Dennett



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Why Did the Alien Cross the Road?

AND NOW, FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY different: a guy gets around, sometimes as a gal, with more incarnations spanning more centuries than a Hindu on his way to Nirvana. No apocalypse, no dystopia, no deadly alien invasion here, although one little extra-terrestrial named Prometheus is watching us. What the AI sees is narrated in “The Alvarium Experiment,” a consortium of writers working “independently together” on an anthology of short stories. “The Prometheus Saga” is the first anthology.

The cycle begins when an alien civilization lands the Prometheus probe, a form of artificial intelligence, on Earth at the start of human history. Prometheus can morph into any human form, take on any identity, male or female, young or old, body after body, lifetime after short lifetime, for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Each author presents his or her own unique vision of how an alien posing as a human might interact with people from the dawn of man to the present. Each story is self-contained and can be read in any order. Each has a different setting in history. 

My recommendation is to begin with Ken Pellham’s “First World War.” Prometheus is in his earliest incarnation, some 40,000 years ago, among our Ice Age ancestors.

The opening line is epic: “The first time you die is always the hardest. Bran didn’t know that yet. He wouldn’t until the next time he died, or perhaps even a few times beyond that ... One day he did not exist, the next, he did, and as a fully-grown man. He had had no infancy, nor childhood, nor adolescence. He had known nothing. Who he was. Where he was. What he was.”

The humans he encounters are not labeled Cro-Magnon, modern human or Neanderthal, but from their description, readers can guess. “I like prehistoric stuff, what with the cavemen and all,” author Pelham tells Charles A. Cornell in a blog interview.

I love Pelham’s author notes at the end of the ebook: “DNA evidence now shows that three percent of humans of European descent carry a bit of Neanderthal in them. So the evidence is clear that some mating of Homo sapiens (called Cro-Magnon in Europe) and Neanderthal occurred.”

That’s fascinating, and this is haunting: “Human evolution is a complex story, and people today seemed surprised to learn that multiple species of hominids existed simultaneously on Earth at that time,” Pelham tells Cornell at the blog interview. “I’m not talking about different races; I’m talking actual different species. And yet only one survives. I doubt that the ones that disappeared did so willingly.”

Like Pelham, I love prehistoric stuff, with cavemen and women who no longer walk among us. I can’t complain the ending is too sad—it is, after all, what happened in real life (more or less). It’s one reason I tend to shun historical fiction.

So, why did the alien land on Earth and stay for thousands of years? No, not to show deer how it’s done (my favorite punchline to the chicken), and no, not so that he could show us a better way. Prometheus is here simply to observe and to learn, not save the world, but sometimes he does change it just a little. He inspires DaVinci, Mary Shelly, a cartographer, and—wait a minute. I shake my puny fist at scholars and theorists who attribute the best and brightest human inventions to extraterrestrial intelligence (even Erich von Daniken and his fascinating buprometheust maddening “Chariot of the Gods” ). However, the point of speculative fiction is to have fun with the “what ifs.” Fine. These authors clearly enjoyed writing these tales, and their enthusiasm is contagious. If they credit space aliens for the best human achievements, let them, as long as they spin a good yarn.

Speaking of good stories, a space alien walks into bar in 1939 Berlin, disguised as a tall, handsome, Aryan-looking bartender who—

Sorry. I shouldn’t even go there, but I never could resist a bar joke or another variation on why the chicken crossed the road.

The story, “Crystal Night,” by Charles A. Cornell, is beautifully researched with vivid and authentic details straight from Nazi Germany, but it’s the most unsettling story in the collection, for me. Instead of wincing at Gestapo cruelties and decrying man’s inhumanity to man, Cornell’s incarnation of Prometheus is fascinated by it. He has the power to save lives but chooses not to exercise that power. Cornell’s story is sophisticated and intelligent, but I’m still mad at Prometheus, even if he is just here to observe and learn.

“Lilith” is Antonio Simon Jr’s retelling of the Adam and Eve story. A mysterious woman shows up at a hermit’s camp. Was Adam guilty of domestic abuse? Is Lilith a heroine, a victim, or a monster?

Prometheus visits ancient Greece in “Marathon,” by Doug Dandridge. Posing as a citizen of Athens, he participates in the battle of Marathon alongside the playwright Aeschylus.

I love the historical view of early map makers in “East of the Sun,” by Jade Kerrion. Through a mysterious map depicting far-flung lands, a Chinese sailor in 1424 and a Portuguese cartographer in 1519 share a vision of an Earth far greater than the reality they know. Like a lot of the Alvarium stories, this one tends toward realism with a fantasy or science fiction based intrusion.

Like many Americans, Elle Andrews Patt is fascinated with the mystery of the lost colony of Roanoke. In “Manteo” she follows the historical events of the second English colonization of Roanoke through the viewpoint of Manteo and Prometheus. The story “becomes pure speculation and allows Prometheus compassionate action, a consequence of his constantly developing humanity,” Patt tells Jade Kerrion in a blog interview. “My research taught me a lot about the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina. I had intended to write about Virginia Dare as a character for the Prometheus story, placing her among the ancestors of the Lumbee, but then I found Manteo and couldn’t resist writing the historical realty of Roanoke in the framework of the Prometheus project.”

Bria Burton’s Prometheus is a mysterious woman who vanishes during the American Revolution in “On Both Sides.” This story is well written, interesting, carefully researched, and full of historical information I should remember from high school but don’t. (Oops.) I love the author’s postscript at the end about the real-life mistress of a certain famous historical personage.

“Ever After” by M.J. Carlson gives us two versions of the Cinderella story as told to Giambattista Basile in 1594 and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1811. This is a captivating tale with a fresh, modern, gritty-realism twist, turning the familiar HEA (happily ever after) to HFN (happy for now). I’m not sure how well it fits the premise of an alien probe reporting on the progress of Earthlings, but fairy tales are part of humanity, so I it works for me. Then again, from the day I first learned to read, I got hooked on fairy tales. It’s a genre I’ll never tire of.

In “The Strange Case of Lord Byron’s Lover,” by Parker Francis, Mary Shelley has a mysterious visitor who inspires her famous Frankenstein story. This is a moody, atmospheric, eerie, intriguing tale, as the real visitors to Lord Byron’s estate may have felt, that famed weekend when they wrote horror stories, and Mary Shelley wrote what is said to be the first science fiction story. Some details, like Prometheus watching two lovers in bed, as if our AI hasn’t seen it all before and needs to take notes, struck me as odd. Lord Byron may have written some great poetry, but as a womanizer, he sounds like quite a cad. Overall, this is an interesting story, but there isn’t much science here.

“Strangers on a Plane,” by Kay Kendall, is a suspenseful yet surprisingly gentle tale. Urging everyone to keep cool and carry one (maybe even using unearthly powers to make sure they do), Prometheus averts catastrophe during a 1969 flight across North America. This story fits into Kendall’s mystery series featuring the amateur sleuth Austin Starr. Fans of the series may love this story, but science fiction fanatics might feel a little underfed. I like the departure from catastrophic events that are contrived to keep readers turning pages. Character wins here in a big way.

In “The Pisces Affair,” by Daco Auffenorde, CIA operative Jordan Jakes scans the crowd for someone suspicious, knowing the Secretary of State is the target of a terrorist attack at a head-of-state dinner in Dubai. This is a fast paced thriller, well written, with a surprise twist. If you guess right away who the would-be assassin is, you’re a savvy thriller reader. I can see why Daco is already established as a best selling author—and I almost never read thrillers. (I’m more interested in character development than plot, as a rule.)

“The Blurred Man,” by Bard Constantine, stars FBI agent Dylan Plumm, investigating a mill explosion that puts her on the trail of the Blurred Man, a mysterious individual who may have been on Earth for centuries. The case turns deadlier at every turn as she unravels a centuries-old mystery.

With “Fifteen Dollars’ Guilt,” by Antonio Simon Jr., Prometheus almost dies in an 1881 steamship disaster. He meets another survivor who gripes about his aimless life. Prometheus helps him find his calling, inadvertently setting in motion the assassination of President Garfield.

Please don’t do the math and ask why I said twelve authors when there are thirteen stories.  Hint: one of the authors submitted two stories.

Do all thirteen stories, at 99-cents each, add up to a $13 book? Not in the conventional sense. No outline was followed. This is not a gradual progression of the alien landing on Earth and advancing with each incarnation. It’s a variety of impressions, a vivid reminder of the ways we are unique even though we’re all human. As such, it also lacks a certain continuity and consistency. I’d like to see a final installment, showing us what Prometheus has learned and what he reports to his home planet after his many years on Earth, interacting with many generations of humans. As it is, this ET does not phone home, and we never know what he thinks of us. (“The Prometheus Saga Anthology,” Charles A. Cornell, etc., The Alvarium Press) 4stars —Carol Kean


Falling Into the Hands of AI

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HAS BEEN both a goal and a fear of mankind for a few decades now. There has been a bit of a buzz recently with quite a few innovators and scientists calling for banning autonomous weaponry. The idea of a future like “The Matrix” or “Terminator” film series isn't exactly a rosy picture. But a future where cars drive themselves is so close that it could be mainstream within a year or two. The controlling AIs are designed to protect us, but how does an AI make the moral choice of saving our lives versus, say, a child who wanders into the road. These moral quandaries may push AI evolution in ways that, while they may not be terrible, will be interesting.

Something happens aboard a ship in space and the pilot is ejected in a Mark-7 combat suit. The suit crashes on a derelict and deserted planet. ARID, the suit’s on board AI, comes online when the pilot is unresponsive. ARID believes that her pilot is in danger and needs to find medical services as quickly as possible. Only there are a few issues: the suit’s weapon was damaged in the crash, making it no more useful than a flashlight; most of the suit's abilities can't be engaged unless the pilot is in immediate mortal danger; And then there is the issue of where the suit landed, a planet that serves as a domestic android factory, appearing defunct.

ARID begins to explore and scavenge her environment only to find that the factories’ defenses still work, to a degree. Although this could pose a threat, it is less so than something that is lurking in the background. Something that has not only killed the resident humans, but did so in a ritualistic fashion. Once ARID finds a way into the factory, she meets the AI that once ran the facility. The AI requires that the suit go through a series of tests in order to get to the medical supplies. The tests are aimed at making ARID a good domestic servant but everything has an odd, dark twist to it.

The AI wants to befriend ARID and make her see that she is wrong to pursue the safety of her human. But another AI in android form not only wants to destroy her, it is out to reformat the AI running the facility. As ARID slowly learns the bizarre fate of the humans at the facility, she runs into moral questions. She finds inventive ways around them. But her methods are overriding her programming, making her purpose irrelevant.

“The Fall,” from Over the Moon, is a scroller/puzzle game. To say it is challenging is a bit of an understatement. The entire game is dark (the gamma can be adjusted but that takes away from the atmosphere) and the clues one must uncover are small and infrequent. There isn’t much that is intuitive about solving the puzzles; it's nothing more than trial and error. If users try everything and can’t get something to work, try doing the opposite of what might work. Combat the fallin the game (once one figures out how to get a working gun) is also a bit difficult. The adversaries don’t stand around wanting to be shot, they duck, weave, and hide.

The story is what truly shines about this game. It is rich and fascinating while being dark and strange. The game offers an interesting study of three different AIs, the way they address changes, and how these changes impact their primary objectives. At times, the results are brutal. The game and the story slowly unfold, drawing the player in deep. When the player finally gets to the finale, they are knocked for a loop. Most won’t see it coming, though there are some cryptic hints dropped here and there throughout the game.

The game play is a bit clunky at first, but smooths out as it progresses. The massive amount of initial difficulty stretches the game over several hours, But once I figured it out, I was able to play it through from beginning to end rather quickly. In reality, it is a short game. The non-linear maps are a nice touch, but users may find themselves going over the same ground again and again to get answers. I'm not a fan of trailing-off, to-be-continued, or wink-wink type of endings either. It always feels to me this could be replaced with “please give us more money.” But the game is fairly inexpensive to begin with, and if the company, Over the Moon Games, can pull off a sequel as good as this, I'll gladly fork over the cash.

The game was recently ported to Xbox ONE and PS4 and is also available on Wii U and PC. It shouldn't be too hard to get your hands on it. Worth it for the story alone. (“The Fall,” Over the Moon, Xbox, PS4) 5 stars —Adam Armstrong


Fant4stic Flaws

THERE’S BEEN QUITE A BIT WRITTEN about “Fantastic Four” already. Reams and reams (if anyone still uses “reams” of anything in the Internet age, that is) covering the film’s upended production, director Josh Trank’s siege war with the studio and the film’s money-starved flop of a release. It’s all fantastic, really. But it’s out there in abundance.

So for once, let’s just make this about “Fantastic Four,” the movie. And how is “Fantastic Four,” the movie? It’s actually reasonably solid. At least for the first hour or so.

After a brief when-they-were-kids prolog, “Fantastic Four” introduces us to the fantastic four, all college freshman(ish) and currently building a cross-dimensional teleporter. There’s Reed Richards (Miles Teller), a socially stunted tech whiz; Sue Storm (Kate Mara), a socially stunted tech whiz; Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), a rebellious street racer, and also a socially stunted tech whiz; then there is Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), who is none of those things. Ben really doesn’t factor in the story for the first hour. He presses a button during Reed’s high school science experiment, hangs out in Reed’s dorm, and then does nothing until he’s ten feet tall and covered in rocks.

If that sounds stiff ... it is. There’s a formulaic, step-by-step quality to the script that hampers a lot of the early film, like we’re just checking off boxes that’ll become important later. For no particular reason, Victor Von Doom (you’ll never guess: also a socially stunted tech whiz) insists that he be the first to try out the teleporter. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s drilled into our heads a couple times so that, of course, he and the others can hop into the untested machine, get zapped with space goo, and gain superpowers.

Or Sue’s ability to recognize “patterns.” It’s introduced in one of her first conversations with Reed (for a moment, I thought the film was trying to imply she was on the autism spectrum), and then it adds nothing until a later scene when, sure enough, someone with a knack for finding patterns is needed to save the day. It’s never mentioned again.

Although the cast, which also includes Tim Blake Nelson, Toby Kebbell, and Reg E. Cathey, is easily one of the sharpest ever assembled for a superhero movie. When the script allows one of them to inject in some charisma, it comes in strong and usually lifts a sagging scene.

The film gets stronger as it approaches the real heart of the story: David Cronenberg-style body horror. Teleporters are tested, college freshman scientists are doused with green space goo, and superpowers are born. In foursome of the nastiest ways possible. You’ve got to extend “Fantastic Four” some credit—a plethora of films have bestowed their heroes with comic book abilities, but few actually take the time to consider the physical consequences. Like Reed, half-crushed under a chunk of teleporter debris, hauling himself to safety inch by inch. He tosses his head back to check his progress ... only to find his feet are still pinned to the floor on the other side of the room. Between Reed and his feet are about ten feet of stretched-like-silly-putty leg muscle. Reed promptly passes out from shock.

I’d say it’s a valid question to wonder if we even need a dark, grounded, gore-speckled reimagining of the Fantastic Four. As comic book characters, they’re all primary colors and adventures in super-science; about as family-friendly as a Marvel comic can get. A “Fantastic Four” where the Human Torch’s father gasps in horror at his son’s charred-over, smoldering skin (yes, this happens) can sometimes feel like a gritty reboot of Mr. Rogers.

But at least it’s somewhat competently done. At least until ...


This is where “Fantastic Four” goes belly-up. Just after the body horror really kicks in, “Fantastic Four” shoves everyone forward a year and into remarkably different situations. Some team members are fugitives from the law. Some are gleefully weaponizing themselves as military tools. Some, not so gleefully.

The changes to “Fantastic Four” creep in slow, at first. Some are noticeable—Mara’s switched from a sandy brown hair color (which I assume is her own) to an obviously fake bleached blonde look. I have no idea why this change was made. If I had to guess, it’d be that some studio head wanted Mara to look more like Jessica Alba in previous “Fantastic Four” films, but that’s entirely speculative.

The effects, which once were A+ level (especially the Thing, who’s a marvelously lifelike creation) suddenly sprout glaring flaws. At one point, the Thing rips the cannon off a tank and swings it like a sledgehammer into the Earth. As soon as it makes contact with the ground, it explodes into nothing. No shrapnel. No spectacular impact. It’s as though the cannon was solid tissue paper, burning up into ash in about half a second. There may be an effect missing there. There’s also a moment where the Thing headbutts Reed in the face. It looks awful; Ben’s headbutt is weightless; Reed slumps over like a vaudeville pratfall. Their heads barely even connect.

But the final battle is where “Fantastic Four” truly earns all that bad press it’s been generating. It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen in a theater in a long time, to the point where I’m genuinely surprised Fox even released it to the public. The dialogue is piss-poor, with Reed just shouting whatever exposition is necessary (junk along the lines of “Doom’s going to destroy the world ... we must stop him!” or “Oh no, we’re being sucked into a black hole!”). Doom and our heroes just stand in place and punch each other in sequence like a bad “Power Rangers” episode. Nothing’s explained. Not why Doom has suddenly turned evil, or what his end goals are. He’s building a big blue pillar of light. For some reason. An evil reason, no doubt. “Fantastic Four” might have benefited if it bothered to tell us.

Yet, even amid that abysmal ending (and through several feet of crushed-rock CG), Bell’s portrayal of The Thing is genuinely affecting. The Thing was always the most captivating member of the Fantastic Four, with that gentle giant balance of brute strength and self-hating interior. Bell nails that—and when his Thing marches down a corridor to face Doom, there’s a palpable sense that we’re building towards something with real punch. Even if that “something” fizzles out seconds later.

There are chunks of “Fantastic Four” that really are tremendous. There are also chunks that will have you howling in “I can’t believe I’m seeing this” laughter. What it’s not, however, is a finished film. It’s half a movie, then a quarter of something else, stapled together and tossed in theaters amid a sea of boos and bad press. “Fantastic Four” is not worth seeing. Although the eventual “Downfall of Fantastic Four” documentary will probably be a must-see. (“Fantastic Four,” directed by Josh Trank, 20th Century Fox) 1star—Adam Paul