Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Dimensions Out of Reality

“I AM UNCERTAIN ABOUT QUANTUM MECHANICS” is the science joke of the day on a t-shirt in “Prisoner” by Dennis W. Green, the sports announcer, jazz promoter and Iowa radio legend who recently came out of the closet ... as a science fiction geek. His debut novel “Traveler” is the first book in this trilogy where theoretical physics, jazz, and elements of pulp science fiction merge in a mind-bending fusion of ... um ... is The Traveler Chronicles speculative fiction, a detective thriller, or both, or more?

No uncertainty here: it’s more. Much, much more.

The main character, Detective Travis “Trav” Becker, is a Traveler who can move between parallel universes filled with identical versions of himself. Well, almost identical. The beauty, the humor, the horror of alternate realities is seeing “what if” he had chosen Door #1 or Path #2. He’s a hero in one stream, a drunk who loses his job and his girlfriend in another, and, all too often, his alternate self is a corpse. Something you never get used to, Trav says, is stumbling across your own dead body.

Book One sees Trav home safe, in spite of all the alternate versions of him who end up dead. Book Two opens a year later. Trav’s life has been “normal to the point of boring, or at least as normal as a cop’s existence could be. And I liked it that way.” Heh heh heh. Such thoughts are as dangerous as saying “I haven’t had a cold all winter.”

"Prisoner" is every bit as complicated, frenetic, mind-bending, and fun to read as “Traveler.” Sam the mad scientist, Morgan the psychic, and Mary the girlfriend are back. Adam and the girl in the diner—well, you’ll see. There's only one Mary, but many versions of Trav and Sam, because Trav has a natural gift for this sort of thing, and Sam has that “hangover pill” (oh, what an evil web he weaves!), wires and computers, and a secret lab code named The Cat Box.

The main story arc of “Prisoner” is Trav’s mission to find two missing girls and bring them home safe. Don’t accuse me of a spoiler here: We don’t turn pages to see if he’ll save the girls, but how—and why they were kidnapped in the first place, and whodunnit. The story does not end when this mission is accomplished. There are subplots and dimensions that will leave readers with no end of new places to go. The universe isn’t big enough to explore all the possibilities, let alone a trilogy.

To nobody’s surprise, Green’s sense of humor and his passion for jazz are seamlessly woven into his prose. The surprise is that he can talk about Heisenberg and Schrödinger as casually as his fellow Iowans chat about those Hawkeyes. Green’s characters and world-building are so authentic, you know these people and places are taken straight from real life.

The stone prison that looks like a castle really exists in a small Iowa town, and so does Green’s version of “Czech Town.” Of course Iowa has no such place as “The Kremlin,” the awesome but sketchy bar where much of the criminal activity begins. prisonerCertainly no thugs like Anton Kaaro, who “hailed from a Balkan state whose name consisted mainly of K’s, U’s, and Z’s” (gotta #love that one). Judging by the neon sign illuminated above her door on a busy street in Iowa, there is indeed a resident psychic. I have no idea if she’s anything like Green’s fictional Morgan, who is also Wiccan, but I’m certain she must have at least one cat. It just goes with the territory.

“Psychic powers may be mumbo jumbo,” Adam tells Trav, “but psychics themselves tend to be extremely observant and good judges of people. It’s how many of them stay in business. They make their predictions based on physical and emotional clues they read from their clients.”

Trav’s psychic has a different theory about precognition: “... seers, prophets and mystics throughout history did not foretell the future so much as they perceived events in another parallel reality, one where time was flowing at a slightly faster rate.” Things we dismiss as urban legends or unexplainable occurrences “could in fact be explained by the notion that people sometimes physically moved between streams.”

The worlds of numerous alternate Trav Beckers collide due to the super-secret experiments of college-friend Sam, the mad physicist. Trav soon discovers the complications of jumping from stream to stream, trying to keep himself or someone else from dying. The Traveler Chronicles are amazing in scope and complexity, yet the writing is so smooth, readers can jump from one parallel universe to another without the jarring side effects Green inflicts on our hero.

Trav delivers a “quick primer” on pan-dimensional cosmology: It turns out that we don't move through time, from birth to death, in a straight line. We're more like twigs being carried along a stream. When we make a decision, or a major event happens, the stream forks. Sometimes the twig that is you goes into one stream, sometimes another. But both streams continue to exist.

And so do you. A version in each of the streams. Your consciousness rides one or the other, but both "yous" continue to exist as well.

Morgan, the psychic, tells Trav that since the dawn of human history, people have manifested signs of traveling between dimensions. Cats seem to be especially good at perceiving multiple planes of reality—“That’s why they stare at blank walls and chase things we can’t see.” (And I thought cats were merely paranoid and delusional, or possessed by demons.) Morgan’s cat, much to her surprise, approves of the stranger on her sofa. This cat’s mysterious affection is one of the reasons Trav ends up a prisoner in Book Two. It’s comical, it’s maddening. Schrödinger’s infamous experiment is almost understandable for anyone who’s been taken in by the ways and wiles of a cat.

Dead or alive, or dead and alive, the fated feline of the Uncertainty Principle shows up on t-shirts, memes, and video games (“Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark”). I may never be done talking about this cat, but I must say Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is a bigger part of the story.

Never mind the Observer creating the reality of the observed. That’s something I cannot fathom or believe. Trav has “proof” that everyone has experienced the occasional shift to a parallel universe: Have you ever been looking for something—your car keys or maybe a book? You look everywhere, and can't find it. Then all of a sudden, there it is. In a place you could have sworn you already searched. Or even more unnerving, maybe you were staring right at it, but for some reason, didn't see it ... It happens to all of us. Dozens, even hundreds of times a day. But the reason we don't know it is that our minds smooth over these incongruities to keep us sane.

When the book you were looking for shows up in the pile where it was not, you shrug, hope you're not suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, and move on. And this can happen no matter how big, or glaring, the aberration.

Yes, even one as big as a dead version of yourself you had to leave in the closet.

Uncertainty is the only thing that’s certain when trying to keep up with the ramifications of an identical self from a parallel universe traveling to a different “stream” or plane of existence. It reminds me of scientific studies showing the brain of a jazz musician is specialized in ways that ordinary brains are not.

“The Cat Box,” code name for Sam’s secret physics lab, is one of many Easter eggs Green plants for fellow science geeks. Fans of “Stargate,” “Star Wars” and even the most obscure cult classics will find plenty of inside jokes tucked into a fast-paced, complex story line. “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” a 1984 action/romance film, inspires a hilarious “sorting” scene in which the short straw is the code name BigBootie. (Make that “Big Boot-TAY,” Trav is quick to insist.)

Jazz fans, a genre of human that is almost as eccentric as science geeks, will also find hidden treasures in music in The Traveler Chronicles. Each character has a signature tune. Springsteen would be playing in scenes with Trav and his beloved Mary, and readers don’t have to hunt for this one: ... one particular night, not long after we’d first started going out, I picked her up at her parents’ place and watched in awe as she glided across the porch, dress shimmering in the moonlight, unknowingly acting out the opening lyrics to “Thunder Road.”

We should demand a hyperlink to the music in our e-readers. Miles Davis, Coltrane, Paul Cotton of Poco—yes, Poco, the country band that is also ... well, see for yourself at Green’s blog, where he provides a playlist to go with the books.

“Even before the plot for the first Traveler book totally jelled,” Green blogs, “I knew that Trav would be hunting another version of himself, and El Hombre Escondido, The Hidden Man, of Cotton's tune was perfect. After all, who is more hidden than another version of yourself?”

In fact, the original title of Traveler was “The Hidden Man.” Trav's hunt for El Hombre Escondido is conducted to the soundtrack of Poco. Green’s August 15, 2015, blog includes the entire playlist of Trav's favorites, and the lyrics contain clues.

Trav’s musical moments (I’m trying to avoid a spoiler here) remind me of the Andy Richter meme, “Some people are born with a brain that has this weird, magical mathematical thing that makes them an amazing jazz musician.”

My son the Chicago jazz bassist says Trav’s thing with music reminds him of a Bruce Lee quote: A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract; and when he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, “I” do not hit, “it” hits all by itself.

This all sounds so much better if you just read the novel. Should you misplace the book or CD and hunt all over for it, only to find it where you’d already looked, you can be certain (and uncertain) that we do not imagine these anomalies. “We’re just in denial,” Trav says. “What we cannot explain, we set aside and forget. To keep us sane.”

“Traveler” (Book One) and “Prisoner” (Book Two) make me eager for “Hunter” (Book Three, due in 2017), but not because Green left us with a cliffhanger, as one myopic reviewer complained. Amazon gives voice to a lot of “one-star bandits” whose mission apparently is to sabotage five-star-average books with the power of numbers. My mission is to vote “no,” the hobby-saboteurs’ reviews are “not helpful.” Today’s readers tend to buy more trilogies than the big, hefty last-century tomes. Some do end badly until the last book is published, but trust Carol: this second book of a trilogy holds up quite well as a standalone. The door is wide open for more. (“Prisoner: The Traveler Chronicles Book 2,” Dennis W. Green, Mbedzi Publishing) 5stars —Carol Kean


Out of Time, Way Out

“IF ONLY. HAVE TWO WORDS EVER expressed more profound regret? Such magnificent loss?” Striking a meaningful pose, raising a clenched fist, the hero of Milo James Fowler’s “Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum” is on a mission to acquire an “if only” cure-all, a potable “do-over” panacea.

If only there were an “if only” elixir in real life, Fowler could use his handsome, epically heroic protagonist to advertise it. Then again, if everyone reads this book and sees how going back in time to fix our mistakes just leads to bigger problems, Fowler and the Captain could be stuck with a very large inventory of unsold elixir.

Captain Quasar has lost 1,490 members of his crew thanks to the near-lightspeed cold fusion reactor he installed in the Effervescent Magnitude. The only remaining crew member is the navigator, Hank the very hairy Carpethrian. There is but one solution: get to Opsanus Tau Prime and persuade the natives to share their “if only” elixir.

Much as I want that elixir myself, I’ll settle for a hilarious, fast paced, time-traveling pulp science fiction space adventure that does double duty as a cautionary tale. Or is that triple duty, or quadruple? No matter: After a prolonged diet of post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction, I’m ready for fun and simple things, like time-travel tales.

Turns out time-travel is anything but simple. No matter. As a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, a dose of humor is just the right palliative for the cerebral, mind-bending complications of a parallel universe and the conundrum of trying to undo the past.

Quasar seems to learn precious little as he stumbles along, but he’ll never let it show. Nor will he ever let it get him down, even when it’s as hopeless as this:

All this traveling back and forth through time—what was the use? In attempting to rewrite the past, Captain Quasar had succeeded only in erasing himself from the timeline, and his crew complement of 1,491 souls as well.

Our valiant but often hapless hero is thwarted by Goobalob thugs who try to demand tolls from space travelers. Quasar would rather shoot and run than submit to highway robbery. Then again, blowing a space ship out of the sky troubles his conscience. And what about those giant Amazonian women, each quasarwielding a massive incinerator-type weapon? How many of them must he shoot down to make his escape back to—back to—well, whatever alternate space-time continuum he keeps getting sucked into by forces unknown?

At first he thinks he’s only dreaming, but Quasar soon realizes he’s gone back in time. A long, long way back, to his first launch, when cheering crowds see him off to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, knowing there is “no one else more capable of seeing this mission to its end.” Little do they know he’s back from a future where the mission ends with him and the magnificent vessel and crew sucked into a black hole.

On the bright side, he is alive in this time frame, and his crew and his ship are back. This may be his chance to outrun those Goobalob toll collectors without annhihilating a whole spaceship full of them. Never mind that history is doomed to repeat itself, according to the wise old man that must accompany the hero of every archetypal journey. Fowler’s love of the absurd makes every trope seem fresh and original. Quasar’s guide is a massive gaseous entity who manifests as a wizened old man with the comically improbable name of Steve—and an oaken stick—and way more advice than Quasar wants to heed.

The Captain and Dennis Green’s “Traveler” are caught up in time loops that are both like and unlike the one in Stargate SG-1, Season 4, Episode 6—in fact, the episode is even cited in “Prisoner.” Detective Becker has considerably more brain power than the derring-do Captain with all his quick quips and denials. E.g., when Quasar’s navigator says, “Next time, keep me in the loop ...”

The captain knew he would, as long as he could figure out what the loop was and why it was looping in the first place.

He doesn’t figure it out. He doesn’t despair, either: ... for now, he had to make it look like he knew what he was doing—which he did fairly well on a regular basis, he had to admit.

My favorite: “I didn’t do anything!” Not that he could remember, anyway.

No, wait, this is my favorite—Quasar is convinced he has become a gas, like Steve, so he takes a certain leap of faith, and:

... he plummeted into the blinding black, screaming to his death, falling and screaming and falling some more. One thing was abundantly clear: he had not, in fact, sublimated into a gas. He was still very solid—and heavy.

If you want to know how he avoids crashing to the bottom of the abyss, you’ll have to buy the book. The answer would look fantastic in a movie. Or a cartoon.

No matter how often he’s bested, Quasar strokes his clean-shaven chin, narrows his heroic gaze and fires off a ridiculous but polite retort—even in the face of the evil Zhan, Galactic Emperor of the Universe, who Quasar impudently addresses as Zhan, who in turn calls Quasar Mister Hero:

“My name is Captain Bartholomew Quasar—”
“To me, your name is Cannon Fodder!”
“You may wish to reconsider.”

Captain Quasar is the quintessential American, confident of his own greatness, undaunted by anyone else’s alleged superiority. He is the rugged individualist who lives forever in America’s heart of hearts. He’s the strapping, handsome, intrepid explorer of new frontiers. He’s also a buffoon, but we enjoy his little humiliations as much as Fowler clearly does. Like the classic Weebles toy (“Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”), Quasar is always quick to recover his dignity and face whatever comes his way. Again. And again. And again.

Are there plot holes or flaws in the novel? Pretty much every novel I read has them. Here, I found myself speeding through some of repetitive themes or events as Quasar relives the same scenes again and again. The giant warrior women are satirized in a way that female readers may find unamusing. But with so many fun-loving, funny quips and fast-paced adventures, I won’t complain. ( “Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum,” Milo James Fowler, Amazon Digital Services) 5stars—Carol Kean


Coming Out of Stasis

IT’S BIG OUT THERE IN SPACE and there is one thought that runs through the collective mind of mankind—we want to explore every bit of it. Whether it’s taking a short jaunt to the moon, or a longer trip out to the Baby Boom Galaxy. We have to know. But the longer trips are problematic. Using current or even speculated future technology it will take many life times to get out there (it took us nine years to do a flyby of Pluto). So as a species we need to look into technology like suspended animation or stasis. However, while we sleep really bad things can happen.

In the videogame “Stasis,” John Maracheck, along with his wife and daughter, are going on a planetary vacation and enter stasis to get there. Everything goes well, routine one might say. Until John wakes up some indeterminate time later and finds himself on a huge, derelict ship named the Groomlake. Everywhere he looks he sees signs of a massacre and a ship that is barely keeping some of its lights on or life support running. And because he was in stasis he has no idea how he got here.

John slowly starts working through the clues he finds, piecing together the events that led to the ship winding up in this condition and possible reasons why his stasis pod was captured and brought here. But what he finds seems like the rantings of a mad scientist and a series of gruesome experiments that involved cloning and body parts. John needs to use the few clues and items he finds to keep pushing himself forward and attempt to find his family, and then do the seemingly impossible: escape this giant ship where something went wrong, as it floats all alone in deep space.

“Stasis” is a simple point and click game where all the action takes place in response to a mouse click. Though the simplicity ends there. The entire game is built around paying attention and searching for oddball items that can be used to stasishelp navigate the ship and clues that can easily be overlooked. It is a bit frustrating to get so far along and realize that what you need at any given moment was several levels back, and now you have to retrace your steps. But this recent movement in the video game industry to take the training wheels off is the right direction to go.

Though the game is very dark, I wouldn’t compare it to something like “Dead Space.” I love the “Dead Space” series but there are a little too many gods and zombies in those games to make for fun game play, and a weak story. With “Stasis,” everything is based on good old-fashion greed, combined with experiments done with no one standing around to point out that what is being done is wrong. The game centers around (though never explicitly stating) that the Groomlake experiments with medical procedures like reattaching limbs, and uses spare body parts found in salvaged stasis pods or through cloning. Cloning takes too long, so the scientists keep trying things to accelerate the growth. Things go wrong.

There are several PDA scattered about the ship that tell some of the backstory. While this adds a certain level of realism, there are quite a few entries that don’t really add anything to the game play and just drag the pacing down terribly. If you are all about playing, just skim through the PDAs. There are helpful hints so don’t skip them completely, and there are also boring interactions between characters that were long dead before John wakes up.

he game is currently made for computer play (I played the OS X version on a current generation MacBook Air) but I felt that the layout would fit in well if it were ported to tablets. A player only needs to use one finger (and a sharp mind) to play. But if the developers decide to port it to mobile they will probably have to drop the price some. Twenty dollars is a bit much for an app.

Overall it is a good story that is fun to play. The main character isn’t fleshed out enough to really care about him, but it is fun to keep tinkering with things to see how odd items like a dirty towel, a shard of glass, old bed linens, and nylon tape work to help fix broken down trams. Grab a copy and try really hard to figure out the puzzles on your own. When in doubt, try combining items. (“Stasis,” The Brotherhood Games, Windows, Mac)4star—Adam Armstrong