Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Narrative of a Slave
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Song of C
by Jørn Arnold Jensen

Ready or Not
by Holly Schofield

Each Day I Walk These Hollow Streets
by Andrew Barton

Neanderthal Autumn
by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Plasma Breach
by Mord McGhee

By the Light of Several Silvery Moons
by Eamonn Murphy

Packrat Machine
by Karl Dandenell

Shorter Stories

Teaching Acute Coronary Syndrome to an Alien
by Devin Miller

by Bill Suboski

We’ve Only Just Begun
by Chris Bullard


Tales From the Greenhouse
by Joseph Green

And a Tale of the Tail
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Out of This World, or Any Other

THE WORLD-BUILDING IN GUY T. MARTLAND’S “The Scion” is, for lack of a term we’d all understand, out of this world. The novel is layered deep with gravitas, veritas, and severitas. Normally I don’t use such words, but Martland at age five read “The Odyssey,” and some of that erudition may spread via osmosis to the reader. At least, I feel smarter just for having inhaled the rarefied air of his prose.

This epic tale may sound a bit intimidating if you prefer Space Opera Lite. Even if you didn’t study Latin (at the traditional English boarding school Martland attended, it was mandatory), you can intuit that gravitas signifies weight, seriousness, dignity, a sense of the importance of the matter at hand; severitas connotes severity, sternness and self-control; veritas sounds like veracity, and “The Scion” delivers. Bursting at the seams with planets, space ships, futuristic technology, wars, peoples, and monstrosities, “The Scion” is the hardest type of #HardScienceFiction, as we in the Twitterverse say. You could safely scrape the Mohs test-diamond over this story without leaving a visible scratch.

The story opens with a writhing black cloud of evil blasting a warship from the sky. On the beach, people with tails watch in horror, knowing all of Arkenthria is doomed. The prologue ends with the whole planet up in flames.

I stopped reading right then and there. If the point-of-view character dies in the opening pages, I’m packing my bags. Annihilate his friends and family as well, not to mention everyone in his world, and I’m outta this story for good.

But ... but the tail-people were awesome, and the alien invaders couldn’t have destroyed every single one of them, right?

A small consolation is that the shape-shifting race known as the Jarthiala can morph the Arkenthrian form, tail and all. If two Jarthialans can star in “Time Out at the Café Metropole” (12-NOV-2014 “Perihelion”), Martland can trot out his endearing Arkenthrians in future stories (hint, hint). OK. Deep breath in. After so many weeks of mourning the Arkenthrian holocaust, I decided to revisit “The Scion” and meet the rest of the cast.

It takes three pages to list all the characters but no time at all for us to remember them. Long after I stopped needing the index, Martland’s preternatural vocabulary made me grateful for Kindle’s built-in dictionary. Most of the words are familiar, but sometimes I have to make sure: e.g. oleaginous is oily, like it sounds. Plangent is more than loud or reverberating; it also connotes melancholy. A patent passageway is not merely an open path; it evokes “a patent airway at resuscitation (medicine creeping in),” and that came straight from the author via email. Some things just can’t be Googled.

Not to be confused with supernatural, preternatural means above and beyond, which precisely suits a six-foot-eight brainiac who plays violin, writes science fiction, and works full-time as a hospital pathologist. I don’t know the word for someone who’s viewed too many slides of diseased tissue under a microscope, but the chapter titled “Sections” makes me wonder. Not even in TV shows like “Dexter” have I seen anything so lurid and unthinkable. I’d love to post an excerpt, but you’d miss the gradual, inexorable build-up and the shock of comprehending what it is you’re seeing. No paranormal monster can compare with the horror of what human beings can dream up. Let’s just say we finally find out what’s behind the hero’s phobic reaction to shattering glass.

The spasmenagaliaphobic scion of the title is Septimus “Sep” Esterhazy. This idle young aristocrat exudes none of the gravitas of his great-grandfather, the original scion, who left Earth for Planet D. Clueless, reckless, or naïve on occasion, Sep spends most of his time mixing music, rather than jousting, fencing, or at least playing shoot ’em up video games. Much to his surprise, it falls on his shoulders to save the world, if not the entire universe. He gets by with a little help from a very old shape-shifter named Huwred, his great-grandfather’s secret legacy, and of course his friends. He gains and loses allies in the course of his journey. With secrets come betrayals, as avid readers know.

So many details of this story would be fun to share in a book club after everyone has already read to the end. I love the way the mysterious blue star rising in the east over Planet D adds to Sep’s “overwhelming sense of bewilderment at all that was happening: the strange man following him, the apparent kidnapping of his cousin ... Everything always seemed to happen at once. And the giddy, archaic music he had been listening to didn’t help.”

I haven’t even mentioned his widowed mother or the comic relief provided by the eccentric poet she’s seeing.

The setting, the characters, the imagery, are marvelous. Great-grandpa’s fossilized body, i.e. his weatherproofed and well-preserved cadaver, looms over Sep’s island like a man-sized version of Brazil’s Cristo Redentor. Twin brothers Manet and Derain are actually clones, the only known survivors of an army of genetically engineered soldiers, all named after French painters. A deteriorating old mansion is kept in a precise state of Gothic ruin by its romantic young owner, Persephone. An extraordinary spaceship, the Sciamachist, is brought to light. Thanks to Genotekk, the human life span has extended to 150 years. Cancer and other diseases have been conquered, but so what? Crow-like flocks of Wraith decimate whole planets for dinner or lunch.

Those nightmarish clouds of ravenous, planet-eating, winged monsters make Hitchock’s “The Birds” look like a carnival romp. This is the real deal, red in tooth and claw. Homer dreamed up nothing this creepy in “The Odyssey.” The sky roils martlandwith gargantuan flocks whose wings look like sheets of black metal. Not feathers but thin, black, arrow-like needles cover the Wraith’s body. Despite its size, it is quick, with claws forged from steel. The beak is a scythe. It has six yellow eyes.

Sep’s friend Persephone (Perse), a bleeding-heart idealist with a passion for the “ancients,” chooses to experience a slow and miserable death by cancer, confident that Genotekk will be able to reverse her death and restore her to good health. It looks like a publicity stunt, but she sees it as a sincere and noble way to identify with the suffering of her human ancestors. I think she is what my dad meant by an over-educated idiot. There’s more than enough suffering in the universe, one way or another, without asking for more to build character or empathy or perspective. If it isn’t cancer, it’s terrorists, tornadoes, solar flares, unrequited love. Alas, Persephone! Who needs cancer when Sep’s ex-girlfriend, the incredibly hot warrior-woman Voltina, comes back?

In alternating chapters, the Sassrit, aka “Protectors of the Known Universe,” try to thwart the Wraiths, but their resources are stretched. They’re running out of time. They recruit the old shapeshifter Huwred, and he too runs into an old girlfriend, which tells me there’s another novel here waiting to be written. Meanwhile, Perse is busy dying of cancer and getting resurrected, but she’ll rise to the occasion and help the hapless Sep save the universe. She’s that smart. Sep is no idiot, but he’s a late bloomer, a Peter Pan. It doesn’t help that his father tried keeping Sep’s destiny a big secret, which is about as sensible as Oedipus’ father and mother trying thwart fate.

I love the archetypes, the classic mythology mixed with futuristic genetics and clones, the Esterhazy family’s Genotekk company with its life-extending enhancements to the human race, the tails, and the little scientific asides—e.g., the forces of evolution decided a prehensile tail wasn’t worth the trouble, so we lost them? I want a flip of the epigenetic switch to bring our tails back. With opposable thumbs we may not need tails for grasping, but what about that phrase “I only have two hands?” With only two legs, we could use a tail instead of a cane in our old age. But I digress.

Genotekk’s eradication of disease, speedy healing of wounds, and other medical advances are among the reasons I love science fiction: “Unzipping DNA with their biochemical knives, fiddling with bases, swapping purines for pyramidines, restructuring the helix until there wasn’t a single cell which hadn’t been guaranteed for at least one hundred years.” If only ethics and consequences were as easy to control. Somehow it seems easier for writers to envision revolutionary medicine than an end to war and other social ills. Will there ever not be a nasty cousin who breaks your toys and fails to outgrow his petty spite?

Ventsath, Sep’s evil cousin, is the kind of villain we can understand. GemmGakk, on the other hand, is the most unfathomably evil sort of terrorist. No amount of time or distance seems likely to weed his kind from the gene pool.

It’s hard to summarize the plot itself without spoilers, but certain scenes stand out. Sep inherits his great-grandpa’s vinyl albums, brought back from 20th century Earth, and he tries mixing the vintage music with some of his high-tech “gels.” I never did grasp how “gels” work, but no matter; in real life I have no clue how my son’s recording equipment works. When Sep discovers noise from outside getting into his DJ mixes, I have to laugh. In high school, my son would create ambient noise (open and shut a cupboard door, put it on repeat) and mix it into his compositions. Sep’s musical aptitude serves a purpose when radio harmonics become part of a weapon woven into his very DNA.

“I have been obsessed with the idea of a piece of music or series of tones being able to kill someone ever since I heard of a musician who had died while playing the piano,” Martland emailed me. “I imagined that she’d hit a certain pattern of notes which had a fatal effect.” (A theme Martland explored in “Esterhazy’s Cadence,” an earlier “Perihelion” story.)

He cites the Kate Bush song “Experiment IV” with “a sound that could kill someone at a distance.” That, in turn, reminds me of Monte Python’s ultimate weapon, the world’s funniest joke. Martland’s harmonics have so much gravitas and severitas it isn’t funny, as my husband would say.

Broadcasting a particular harmonic wavelength could be fatal to the Wraith’s flying fiends of death? I’d accept this as readily as “Beam me up, Scottie” (how did that work?), but I married an electrical engineer who can employ willing suspension of disbelief in matters of religion but not science. Yes, via marriage or osmosis, I now obsess over anything that involves high frequency. Is it really possible that a unique set of complex oscillations, played in a specific timeframe, would render a creature (mechanical or organic) stone dead? My husband started sketching a sine wave. Then he drew a square wave and spoke of the third, fifth, and seventh harmonic. My brain cells staggered away, gasping for air. Frequencies beyond the audible hearing range of a human might bother a bird, but to fry anything to “stone dead,” you need the intense heat of a fundamental signal up at microwave frequencies—which has nothing to do with “harmonics.”

After sleeping on it, I surfed the web for radio harmonics. The Hammond organ uses sinewaves to compose a signal, and you can Google a beautiful animation by LucasVB explaining the Fourier decomposition of a square wave. Should the Schiamachist employ microwave frequencies, not square waves? The Wraith agents are not birds, but electrical flocks of Death Metal with black feathers. Mix that with the Seventh Harmonic, and Sep might have the next hit on the Top 100. In any case, Sep does something spectacular with “radio harmonics,” and if that’s not the right term, we’ll just blame the Arkenthrian.

The climax is all that military science fiction should be, which is to say, I had to speed-read through most of the battle scenes. (I always do.) Sep’s journey comes to a satisfying and victorious end, though he may never again be carefree, idle, naïve, or reckless. The epilogue is a heart-wrenching reminder of fatum (kismet, inevitability). The door wide open to a sequel, which is in progress.

I wonder what our novel-writing pathologist could possibly come up with next? A future issue of “Perihelion” will bring more of the artist Sirius Andervich—“a bit of a dark story about revenge,” Martland says with characteristic understatement.

Martland lives in Bournemouth, a stone’s throw from where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” I’m afraid there’s no end of eerie things to inspire the lurid imagination of the world’s tallest living science fiction author.

As for a word that means “out of this world” in the sense that properly describes this novel, I’m waiting for Martland to supply it. (“The Scion,” Guy T. Martland, Safkhet Fantasy)5stars —Carol Kean


Where No Wife Has Gone Before

HE GOT ME WITH TELEPORTATION and mad German scientists. M.G. Herron’s “The Auriga Project” opens with an inventor showing off his revolutionary new translocation device, the Hopper, which will relocate people or things from Earth to Moon in an unbelievably short amount of time, but—oops! In public, with all the media there to see, the inventor’s wife is accidentally beamed off the face of the Earth. Quick—to the Moon, see if she ended up there—but no, she’s waaay farther away than that.

Sounds hilarious, but Herron plays it straight. He almost lost me before the end of chapter one for that reason. Make me laugh, and I’ll read any genre; sound too sober, and it’ll take a lot of science or history to keep me going. Herron lured me with carbonados. Tell me more about black diamonds that came to Earth with a meteorite from a distant planet where humans dwell, and I’ll keep turning pages.

“Diamonds are extremely efficient thermal conductors,” the errant husband reminds himself after his wife mysteriously vanishes. Diamonds are an electrical insulator, though, which means a diamond couldn’t cause the excess energy that arced from the controls before Amon’s wife Eliana got whooshed away by his teleportation device. Amon has a funny feeling about that diamond, which came from a meteorite.

Creating a black-diamond ring from a NASA meteorite may sound like a questionable thing to do, but Audrey, the NASA scientist, insisted: “What was a fragment of space rock between friends?” Ha. Questions like that lead only to trouble. They’re almost as dangerous as the ol’ what-next.

“Carbonados like the kind found in that meteorite are a result of shock metamorphism,” Audrey tells Amon. “The shockwaves and heat of a high velocity astronomical impact turns the carbon deposits in the meteorite into black diamonds. They’re rare, and the polycrystalline structure is incredibly durable, but I don’t see how they could interface with electronics.”

Maybe it’s more than electronics that swept his wife into the farthest reaches of space.

Eliana is an archaeologist with the emphasis on early-American anthropology. This will come in handy when she finds herself on a planet full of humans who seem to be stuck in the Aztec age (think Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” and the human sacrifices).

Her surprise trip via the Hopper is actually very timely, in terms of her career. Eliana has exhausted Earth’s avenues for research. “The sense that there was nothing left to discover permeated the field of archaeology. She and her aurigacolleagues all knew there was more money in tearing down ancient buildings than preserving or studying them. Each year, a few more said goodbye.”

While Amon is busy looking for her on the moon, Eliana is staring in wonder at the purple sea and sky of a distant planet. Never doubting that her husband will find her, never thinking a single ill thought of him, she finds a primitive village full of humans. How did these people get to a planet that’s habitable for humans? Eliana is “so busy trying to survive and learn the language,” she doesn’t get around to asking them. Maybe in Book Two she’ll find the answer. Maybe she’ll also lose her temper with Amon and learn to laugh more.

Once Amon realizes he needs to extend his search, it’s too late. His Hopper, in fact his entire company, is shut down by corporate villains who also damage the Hopper. Amon has to break into research facilities to get the tech support he needs to find his wife. She’s dead, everyone else insists. And he’ll pay.

He’ll pay because mad scientists get no respect. Amon Fisk “was well aware of the scientific trail of errors he proposed to inherit” when he first experimented with translocation. To avoid being picketed by animal rights activists, his team didn’t tackle living subjects until they had successfully translocated (teleported) metal, plastic, computer parts, then plants, wood, and dirt, then small creatures. No melted mice in the labs at Fisk Industries!

In secret, Amon has teleported himself to the Moon. Now he’s ready to go public with his revolutionary new form of space travel. Auriga means charioteer in Latin, and The Auriga Project promises that a man can step through the Translocator and come out on the surface of the Moon as easily as he can walk across the street.

Promises, promises. The “chariot” looks more like a piece of modern art than the rocket ships of pulp science fiction (check out the cool cover art by Jonathan Kurten). The Hopper is two hundred feet high (about 61 meters), with a sphere of concentric 25-foot (about eight-meter) alloy rings under an arch-shaped array of silicone and metal nodes. No wings, no thrusters. The glass-walled flagship seems “sparse and powerful, delicate and surreal.” (After all, thrusters powered by a “particle accelerator” would sound sketchy, which is why the energy crisis on Earth will not be resolved any time soon with nuclear physics.)

Amon is inspired by a secret lab in 1930s Germany, where “Nazi fringe scientists pioneered the molecular reassembly process.” Of course I had to check in with Wikipedia. Die Glocke,"The Bell,” was supposedly a top secret Nazi scientific technological device. Aerospace scientists doubt the device ever existed, but so what? The Nazi Bell has inspired a sort of science fiction fandom.

Nothing may remain of the large, bell-shaped device made out of a hard, heavy metal, but Third Reich scientists working for the SS did experiment with antigravity or free energy. The Bell had two counter-rotating cylinders “filled with a mercury-like substance, violet in color,” which seems fitting for the purple sea and sky of the planet Eliana has been “hopped” to. Also fittingly, The Bell purportedly ended up in a German-friendly South American country.

The violet substance of The Bell might have been red mercury, but no matter; purple works in the novel. A meteorite from a violet-sky planet exerts a certain pull over an archaeologist who studied Earth’s Mesoamerican peoples. She figures out what the primitive villagers of the planet want from her, thanks to her training. It isn’t good.

Fortunately, Eliana is smart enough to remember what a 20th century explorer named Edward Thompson found when he dredged a huge rainwater reservoir associated with the Mayan sky god Chaak. The fourteen-foot (about four meter) layer of blue sediment at the bottom of the cenote signified trouble for the Mayans, and the corresponding layer in violet spells trouble for Eliana. Tension escalates as days turn to weeks and still her husband has not located her. How to keep from becoming a human sacrifice for the god Xucha?

Eliana’s chapters are like a time-travel vacation to early Mesoamerica. I like the index at the end explaining terms taken from modern Yucatec Maya dictionaries and archaeological texts. The primitive village, though, even on a purple planet with two moons, comes across as the province of fantasy, with a sprinkling of romance as Amon ventures into the universe to find his missing wife. Add to that the complications of a thriller along with the usual corporate villains that genre is known for.

For fans of those other genres, this may be worthy of a five-star review. The Amazon synopsis calls it “a gripping juxtaposition of cultures and creatures in the tradition of science fiction classics. It’s also an intergalactic race against the clock that follows one Earthling’s desperate fight for survival and another’s tireless quest to bring her home alive.”

“The Auriga Project” is an easy read with enough talk of rocks, physics, and science experiments gone wrong to keep a reader’s interest. Some loose threads are left untied, in particular, the alien planet and its connection to Earth. The ending is more of a tease than a resolution, but sequels and books in a series are still all the rage. Me, I’ll take a 600-page novel. (“The Auriga Project,” M.G. Herron, Amazon Digital Services) 4stars—Carol Kean


It’s a Warzone Out There

A NEW “HALO” WAS RELEASED about a month or so ago and, unlike the previous entries (seven counting the non-Master Chief stories), “Halo 5: Guardians” wasn’t huge gaming news. Don’t get me wrong, the game sold well, making over $400 million and was the best-selling game that month. But, with its exclusivity to one platform, there were too many other headlines competing against it. The other games released at the same time were built off of new stories or new twists and turns, while Halo bet on its tried and true continuation of the story of Master Chief and its multiplayer. However, if sales numbers are any indication, they made the right bet.

The campaign plot revolves around two teams of Spartans—Fireteam Osiris and the Blue Team lead by Master Chief—battling the Covenant and the Prometheans. While attempting to scuttle a research station, Master Chief gets a message from his former AI companion Cortana, who was thought lost at the end of the previous game. Instead of following orders, Master Chief decides to go rogue and find Cortana. Fireteam Osiris is then charged with bringing in Blue Team after they are declared AWOL. This is no easy task as Master Chief is considered to be a legendary Spartan and a hero to most of the galaxy. But even a hero has to follow orders.

As far as the campaign goes, I give it a resounding meh. Don’t get me wrong, the cut scenes are beautiful, the acting and dialogue is well done, but the story just didn’t really draw me in. It felt like they were running out of Master Chief stories so they had to throw in a going rogue story as if this were a “Mission Impossible” movie. The battles themselves were mildly chaotic, like most “Halo” campaigns. There was the “normal” lack of ammo, forcing players to try different weapons. (However, if you are a good shot and use melee attacks, you can conserve your ammo.) Overall, the campaign was lacking, although it did introduce new mythology for the future games. But who plays “Halo” for the campaign?

The “Halo” series revolutionized first-person shooters (FPS) on the console and in multi-player. The multi-player does a great job of keeping its core appeal while adding in new elements. If you are familiar with the series, you are well-aware of halo5the normal matchmaking modes such as Slayer: player vs. player where the team that has the most kills wins. There are the objective modes: capture the flag, and stronghold. And there is a free-for-all mode: everyone plays against everyone else. These are all the same as they have been since “Halo 2” with a new coat of paint and better load times.

One of the newer features in the game is the REQs. These REQs can be purchased through points won in matches (or actual money). The REQs give users all types of different weapons, customizations to make your Spartan look different, boosts to win experience points and REQ points faster, and weapon skins for even finer customization. The REQs are a bit confusing; at first, I couldn’t figure out how to use them. There may have been a tutorial that I accidently skipped over. After some “Google-fu,” I was able to get them working, making my character stronger and odder.

The other new feature, and in my opinion the strongest improvement in the game, is Warzone. Warzone is a big team battle (with twenty-four players) that is a mixture of Slayer and objective-based gameplay. Not only that, Warzone injects boss and legendary boss elements that are controlled by an AI. Both teams can attack these difficult characters, but the player with the killing blow scores huge point bonus for the team. All players start off on even ground. They can use their REQ points to purchase various power weapons and vehicles. So collecting and saving REQs can give you an advantage. Warzone comes in two variations: the above-mentioned longer game, which can run over twenty minutes; and a shorter version that focuses on one aspect, putting one team on defense and the other on offense.

“Halo 5” offers a campaign that isn’t bad but isn’t remarkable either. It gives players a chance to get familiar with the layout and the controls. The multiplayer is well worth the price of the game. And Warzone is a brilliant twist on the traditional multiplayer. Players can not only purchased REQ packs that give them weapons, vehicles, and the ability to customize their Spartan, they can acquire all of these options by just playing the game.

But you are required to purchase maps. Those who don’t buy the maps can’t play in the multiplayer mode. Although this has been a part of the “Halo” series for ten years, it is still annoying to have to pay more after buying the game just to be able to play with others. Maps are often given away for free after some time, so there is always the option of wait and see.

The most annoying aspect of the new “Halo” is the lack of split screen. My wife and I like to shoot twelve-year-olds in “Halo” and now we’d have to buy two consoles if we want to play together in the same room.

“Halo 5: Guardians” is only available on the Xbox One. But if you buy it, you may find time slipping away in huge chunks as you play. (“Halo 5: Guardians,” Microsoft, Xbox One) 4stars—Adam Armstrong




“The Scion” has been nominated for the annual
British Science Fiction Association Awards