Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Mickey A. Goes to the Moon
by Ronald D. Ferguson

To Make it to Hilion
by Dori Peleg

Deep Down Here
by Kathryn Michael McMahon

by Eric Del Carlo

Run Program
by D.K. Latta
and Jeffrey Blair Latta

Between Two Worlds
by Bill Suboski

Radiance in a Dark Lens
by Derrick Boden

Those Golden Years
by Chet Gottfried

Shorter Stories

Earthly Hosts
by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Fried Chicken You Can’t Refuse
by Peter Wood

by Richard Wren


2075: A Day in the Life
by Curt Tigges

Forensics Under Fire
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

From Earth to Titan

NEVER AGAIN WILL ANOTHER Asimov, Heinlein, or Phillip K. Dick light up the literary firmament? I’m fine with that. A new generation is launching an era of speculative fiction that’s as fresh, fun, and futuristic as those pioneers of the Golden Age, whose technological visons are not as fresh or as far-off as they once were. If today’s rising stars are not as prolific, note how many still have day jobs: Ken Lizzi is a lawyer, Guy T. Martland a pathologist, E.E. Giorgi a geneticist, Anthony J. Melchiorri a biomedical engineer, Rhett Bruno an architect, and—well, let’s stop and see why an architect’s novel, “Titanborn,” is creating such a stir.

For many readers, it’s Zhaff. Brilliant in an Aspie sort of way, with the attendant lack of social skills, his humorless logic is hilarious. And poignant. Who, or what, is this weird kid with a blind eye and a disturbing electronic eyeball strapped to his head? How did he come to exist at all? At first, Malcolm Graves, a seasoned bounty hunter who’s outlasted everyone else in this dangerous business, is horrified at being stuck with a partner at all, much less a freak like Zhaff. His peers joke that “babysitting” Zhaff is Malcolm’s punishment for a mission that went bad. Naturally, the techno-savvy boy wonder will win the old one’s respect. That much is a given. The tension, the comedy of errors, the dawning trust make us want a whole series with this duo.

A Titanborn rebel named Kale will play a larger role in Book Two. I want more rabble rousers like Yev Tavar, the asteroid miner whose technical skills astonish Malcolm (and cause him a nightmarish amount of trouble). With so many lurid ideas percolating in Bruno’s imagination and spilling out into other stories set in the Titanborn Universe, we can be sure there’s more where Zhaff, Malcolm, their boss, and the radical, much maligned “Ringers” came from.

Even more heart-stealing than the rebel Tavar (not to mention Elios!) is Malcolm’s daughter, who’s illegitimate to the point that her very existence is illegal. In keeping with the tradition of post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction, the government decides who may bear children and how they’ll be raised. Aria is Malcolm’s best secret, dumped at his door after her law-breaking mother dies. When a paternity test proves she’s his, Malcolm keeps her hidden in plain sight, raising her as a single dad in a world where that kind of family no longer exists. Forced to tag along on his missions rather than get apprehended by the state, Aria grows up as skilled as any Collector—until the scene where she renounces her father and his work, and now he hasn’t seen her in years, and she’s probably on the side of the rebels he’s hired to kill.

Violence is part of the Collector’s job, and Aria’s father knows no other way of life. After thirty years of chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm sounds like an incurable cynic. His creed is simple: do what he’s told, no questions asked, and collect his pay. Someone else judges who should live or die; it’s not for him to decide. If he were to spare a target’s life, he not only wouldn’t get paid, he’d get fired.

He starts out as the classic antihero but grows, scene by scene, into an epic hero. From the outset, memories of his estranged daughter show that his feelings run deeper than his hard-boiled, first-person narrative would have us believe. The real perspective builder hits when he discovers what she’s been up to in the years since he last saw her.

While character development is seldom a strong point of science fiction, Bruno delivers out-of-this world characters who come to life with nuanced rather than clichéd description. Their conflicts are painfully sharp and deep. In Anthony O’Neill’s “The Dark Side,” a father will sacrifice anything, even his daughter, for the sake of power. In “Titanborn,” a father will sacrifice anything for his daughter. The stunning finale is as tightly crafted as a Greek tragedy.

Really, this may be the most affecting, most disturbing novel of the year, I said of Martland’s “The Scion.” That was 2015. This year, it just might be “Titanborn.”

Revolution, rebellion, conquest, corporate greed, and individual ethics versus the good of a larger community: it’s all there, and more, neatly tucked into a cohesive narrative that hardly stops to take a breath. A wide range of politics, economics, sociology and theology reminds us how history repeats itself, e.g., the way pioneers took great risks to establish homes in distant lands, Europeans brought diseases to Natives, and American colonists killed their former countrymen to protect their new world.

The back story is seamlessly woven into the narrative: Three hundred years ago, with a rogue meteorite heading on a collision course with Earth, a scientist built an ark for 3,000 people and fled to Titan, the orange moon of Saturn. The titanbornemigrants adapted and forgot about their home world. When Earthers find their way to Titan centuries later, it’s no peaceful reunion. With low gravity and sunless skies, Titanborn humans are taller, slimmer, paler, and accustomed to the cold. They hate being called Ringers. Some have built a religion around the ark builder, Trass. Most of them would sacrifice their lives to spare their home from the tyranny of Earth.

Malcolm, the cynic, cannot imagine anyone having a cause that’s worth dying for. He’s never seen a blue sky, or cities that scrape the clouds. Annual M-Day events commemorate the day the Meteorite smashed into Earth, drowning billions of people, half the land, and most of Earth’s flora and fauna. Long, narrow strings of human enterprise replace cities that once expanded in every direction. High-speed maglev trains run down the centers of a long earthworm of conurbation (what a visual!), with alternating nodes of home, farm, industry and commerce.

Constant reminders of mass annihilation drive colonization throughout the solar system. Some warn against space travel “lest God complete the job he started with the Meteorite.” They believe “the Meteorite served as cosmic punishment for our transgressions,” and a Church of the Three Messiahs blends Christianity, Judaism, and Islam into the Final Testament. Bruno misses no opportunity for satire and humor with this theme.

Nothing is funny, though, about citizens electing members of the United Sol Federation (USF) Assembly to make the rules that protect Earth, while Corporations bend them even at the expense of every Earther’s safety.

These evil Corporations (is there any other kind, in fiction?) hire “Collectors” to take down dissidents. Malcolm knows his duty is to “cleanly” settle issues before they grow into something worse.

Normally I avoid thrillers, corporate villains, and post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction, but Bruno knows how to tell a story that keeps the reader turning pages. He focuses less on the trope of a ruined Earth and more on the ways humanity escaped extinction, made parts of our world still habitable, and spread out into most of the solar system. Corporations, however self-serving, have plucked the remnants of humanity from another Dark Age. The world building is as splendid as Hugo- and Nebula-winner Kim Stanley Robinson’s. The prose is as compelling, witty, and atmospheric as the best hard-boiled future noir can be.

With so many great characters, conflicts, worlds, and themes, one book just isn’t enough. Recently, Bruno earned a Certificate in Screenwriting from the New School in New York City. He also does some writing for video games. This up-and-coming author may have to quit his day job—a career in architecture—or give up sleep, to keep up with reader demand. (“Titanborn,” Rhett C. Bruno, Random House Publishing/Hydra)5stars —Carol Kean


It’s Darker on the Dark Side

ONLY A LUNATIC WOULD LIVE ON THE MOON, Anthony O’Neill tells us in one of the most anticipated novels of 2016, “The Dark Side.” Only a lunatic, a renegade, a pariah, a misanthrope, a risk junkie, or a mass murderer. With every square meter of our world being watched, probed, or listened to, the dark side of the Moon is a “surveillance-free zone” in this futuristic crime noir, attracting rich entrepreneurs as well as sleazy opportunists who supply every vice money can buy.

Like Australia in Earth’s own dark history, the Moon’s dark side also makes a convenient dumping ground, er, penal colony, for our most dangerous criminals. By participating in an experiment on the physical and psychological effects of long-term exposure to the lunar environment on the human body, serial killers and maniacs can opt for the euphemistic Off-World Incarceration Program (OWIP) over prison cells. Coincidentally, or not, O’Neill was born in Melbourne to an Irish policeman and an Australian stenographer. Whatever O’Neill’s views on the legacy of convicts in building the Land Down Under, he humanizes the world’s worst criminals in this story. Warning: do not get attached to these characters, however intriguing, civilized, or endearing they may seem.

The moonscape is breathtaking. Check out the Acknowledgements with its long list of reference books O'Neill consulted to create this lunar world of the future. Lines like this abound: “Of all the mysteries the Moon continues to harbor—gravitational anomalies, magnetic inconsistencies, curious orange sands, and strange eruptions of vapor—none is more intriguing than its habit of ringing like a bell, sometimes for hours, when it’s struck by a meteorite.” Cool. And true.

I don’t know if slow-falling raindrops the size of water balloons could ever exist (and I promised myself I wouldn’t take time to google it), but the trains, towns, attractions, and travelogue of lunar sites make me want to sign up for a tour, regardless. The place names already have a familiar ring: The Sea of Tranquility, the Plato Crater, Peary Base at the North Pole—“beyond which there is only darkness”—and “the jaw-dropping Shackleton Crater, four times as deep as the Grand Canyon.” Such attention to detail and plausibility is what distinguishes the best science fiction from speculative fiction that belongs on the fantasy shelf.

True to the noir theme, O’Neill examines the dark underbelly of society. The cops are more corrupt than the criminals they lock up. The rich and powerful are even more dangerous than the petty thugs, thieves, and assassins exiled to OWIP.

Störmer Crater is the home of eccentric billionaire Fletcher Brass, who builds an empire called Purgatory with a domed capital named Sin City. It’s a hybrid of the lawless Wild West, the architectural splendor of ancient Mesopotamia, and the glitz of Las Vegas. Dazzling, daring and decadent, Brass rules Purgatory with a “Brass Code” that turns Dale Carnegie’s one-liners upside down, inside out, and over the brink.

• “It’s good to have a rival. It’s even better to crack his skull.”

• “Shake hands in public. Decapitate in private.”

• “The love of money is the root of all progress.”

Brass, in the grand tradition of historical tyrants, keeps his twisted world running smoothly—until deadly bombings target the businessmen, and the last good cop on Earth is summoned to find the perps. The suspects include Brass himself, his estranged daughter QT (for “Cutie”), and an elusive band of terrorists who may or may not even exist. The body count piles up.

Lurid violence and murder after murder after murder is a huge part of this story. Normally, I avoid novels full of blood and casualties, but this one is too compelling to ignore. I judge dozens of titles, book covers and synopses every day, passing over 99 out of 100 books (or something like that). What, out of a gazillion synopses, drew me to this book?

Comparisons to Phillip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler, and Quentin Tarantino didn’t do it for me. Nor did talk of Dark Side, the movie. I’ve lost count of how many authors celebrate their book being optioned for movie rights only to have nothing to show for it years later. I’m more impressed that Simon and Schuster bought an Indie author’s book than hearing producers Steve Zaillian and Garrett Basch “optioned” film rights. When “The Dark Side” comes to movie theaters near us, I’ll get excited.

So, what tripped the trigger for a busy book critic to choose this book over so many others? One line: an amnesiac android traversing the Moon, on a mission to "Find Oz. And be the Wizard." It just sounded so ... endearing.

The droid, however, has other missions: "See El Dorado. Take El Dorado. Find another El Dorado," and "Smile. Smile. Smile. Kill. Smile." Does that sound like something straight from the Brass Code? It is.

The Brass Code forms the prologue. Never mind references to Ayn Rand in the publisher’s promo; this doesn’t sound like Dagney: “Workers are like dogs. Pat them on the head occasionally. And put them down when necessary.” It does, however, sound like The Collector’s job description in “Titanborn.” Not by coincidence are both novels reviewed together here.

Chapter by alternating chapter, the homicidal Leonard Black, one of a dozen androids first-named Leonard, crosses to-do items off the Brass List. I winced and cringed and vowed to speak ill of this novel, or worse, ignore it completely. Instead, I kept turning pages, admiring the artistry, the narrative detachment which ironically underscores the horror that unfolds with the classic inevitability of Greek tragedy—which, we would do well to remember, was filled with comic and burlesque elements.

Also, actor Christoph Waltz, the real star of Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” kept coming to mind as the actor to play Leonard Black. Going from charming to vaguely creepy to homicidal in the course of a five-minute conversation, the serial-killing android is more comical and sophisticated, yet terrifying, than any fantastical monster or metal-clad alien of the Golden Age of pulp science fiction.

The other Leonards obey Asimov’s First Law (robots must not harm or kill their human creators), but Leonard Black has somehow gone astray. Like a Mormon in his black suit, he knocks on door after door in OWIP country, so polite, until hedarkside strikes a chilling note in conversation after conversation. The dialogue is brilliant. Leonard always twists it into something vaguely confrontational, then profane and vulgar, then violent, so consider yourself forewarned.

The narrative is fast-paced with alternating points of view. The honest cop summoned to the Moon is Lieutenant Damien Justus, pronounced Yoo-stus, but yoost try getting anyone else to say it right. His face was disfigured by an acid-wielding criminal, but he refuses plastic surgery, citing a motto in his Scottish legacy to explain why.

If not for the pesky plot spoiler problem, I’d have a field day comparing and contrasting O’Neill’s father and estranged daughter with Rhett Bruno’s. Human drama (if not tragicomedy) packs the punch in these two-fisted noir detective stories set far, far away from our home world. Both authors spin a taut and riveting tale that puts pulp science fiction in the same elevated league as Greek tragedy. Not that I was ever a fan of Greek tragedy. In my college years, not one professor ever spoke of science fiction, much less had us read it. High schools continue to push “Romeo and Juliet” (I know, not Greek, but so damned tragic) instead of Princess Leia and the pilot who turns out to be her brother so, thank heaven, Luke’s crush goes unrequited and Han Solo gets the girl. But I digress.

O'Neill writes well, with black humor and bluntness. If you like R-rated language and senseless violence, you’ll love it. Even if you hate the ruthless characters and their dark deeds, you are sure to respect O'Neill's vision, imagination, careful research, clever dialogue, and classic noir plotting. Five stars, or four stars and a half moon (the dark half, of course), this story is a must. (“The Dark Side,” Anthony O’Neill, Simon and Schuster)5stars —Carol Kean