The future sucks.

It hasn't always been that way. At least not for me as a reader. I was enamoured of Golden Age Science Fiction when I was a boy. This was decades after it had ended, and New Wave SF was big. I liked a lot of the science fiction that was currently being published in my pre-teen years, but nothing replaced the optimism, the innocence, and the excitement of a lot of the Golden Age.

No work typifies the Golden Age as well as Jack Williamson's The Legion of Space does in my mind. Even though it was published a couple of year prior to when most SF historians consider the beginning of the Golden Age. I still get breathless when I think about the Dedication Williamson made in The Legion of Space:

To all the readers and the writers of that new literature called science-fiction, who
find mystery, wonder, and high adventure in the expanding universe of knowledge,
and who sometimes seek to observe and to forecast the vast impact of science upon
the lives and minds of men.

Kinda gets you right there, doesn't it?

Now the rage is all post apocalyptic horror. I don't read a lot (as in, none) of contemporary SF, so I can't speak for it. In horror and in YA novels, the future seems to be a place you wouldn't really want to go to. I grow weary of it.

This isn't to say that a lot of really well-written pieces of fiction are not coming out set in Dystopian futures. Justin Cronin's The Passage, the wildly popular Hunger Games books and movies, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Hugh Howey's Wool, Scott Westerfield's Uglies, Neal Shusterman's Unwind. These are all great books, and many certified classics take place in ravaged futures: Swan Song, Earth Abides, I am Legend, The Stand, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Obviously, most of what comes out in the post-apocalyptic subgenre falls far short of the marks set by the above works. When things get popular, the quality level drops. I tend to avoid a lot of it.

But stuff comes by my desk, and I will make exceptions. Such as in the case of this "double down" book from authors Brett J. Talley and Harry Shannon and Journalstone Publishing

I like the format used here. It's an obvious nod to the memory of the great "Ace Double" books that were very popular from 1952 to 1978. In these books you got two short novels. They were inverted and you had to flip the book upside down after reading one to get to the other.

I was very familiar with the work of Harry Shannon, so I jumped into Brett Talley's The Reborn first.

The Reborn has a unique promise: Reincarnation is now an accepted belief, and technology allows authorities to detect the rebirth of murderers in pregnant women. In order to prevent crime, they are forcibly aborted and it is illegal to carry the tainted children to birth. This is after wars have plagued the earth. Marcus is a peace officer in the force that locates women who are running and attempting to have and keep their children. Children who have been determined to be the reborn souls of heinous murderers.

Marcus discovers an underground that protects these runaways, and a series of disturbing events cause him to question not only his orders, but the very society he has pledged to serve.

Brett Talley weaves a good tale, and I liked The Reborn quite a bit. It's a dark, sometimes ugly story, but it is not without humanity and hope. I will definitely keep my eyes open for more of the author's work in the future. Providing we have a future, that is.

Harry Shannon has been steadily creating some of the finest horror and suspense fiction in the past fifteen years. I've yet to be disappointed in anything he writes, and Biters is no exception.

Yes, Biters is the now very familiar premise of a collapsed society after a zombie plague. Unsurprisingly, Harry does something different with it. Biters is a mix of hard noir and zombie fiction. Kind of James M. Cain meets George Romero. Buck Ryan is a survivor who takes refuge in a hardscrabble town and meets a woman from his past. A past in which she doublecrossed him. Though Ryan knows better with part of his mind, desperation for any sort of comfort and affection causes him to accept a nasty proposal from her. Doublecross her current lover and appropriate his weapons, drugs, and food, and then she and Ryan go off and live happily ever after. Even if ever after probably won't be very long.

Once again Harry Shannon delivers a tough but sentimental story that shows the best and worst of our species. Biters is shorter than The Reborn, and I wish it had been a bit longer. I would love to know more about the back story of the characters.

As is the norm with Journalstone, Biters/The Reborn is available in a variety of formats. From deluxe hardcover to paperback to electronic editions.

Definitely recommended.

Review by Mark Sieber

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