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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993
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The Sadist's Bible by Nicole Cushing

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The Sadist's Bible


Nicole Cushing

(01Publishing, April 2016, 87 pp.)


Reviewed by Jeb Kinnison

Do u really think ur ready 2 die? I don’t want u chickening out on me.”

This is the first line in Nicole Cushing's new novella, The Sadist's Bible, following up on her Bram Stoker Award-winning novel Mr. Suicide.

Trigger warning: extreme lesbian sexual imagery, torture, blasphemy. Unlike traditional horror, her writing relies on explicit imagery; where a traditional horror writer would leave the disgusting details to the reader's imagination, Cushing dwells on them, in the splatterpunk subgenre's tradition.

Ellie is a middle-aged childless woman married to a devout Christian man in southern Indiana, working in sales and secretly attracted to younger women. She feels guilty about her disloyalty to both her husband and her God but wants more, and starts to open up her lesbian feelings on online social networks. She stumbles on a site bringing together those who want help to commit suicide called "The Buddy System - Putting the 'pair' in despair," where she meets Lori, a young woman who excites her lust and pulls her into a plan to commit suicide while having sex.

It's hard for a mentally healthy person to imagine being suicidal enough to want to kill yourself while still being interested in kinky sex. But a great writer can pull off this examination of diseased mental states, making the implausible seem believable – a suspension of disbelief. Cushing is trying to bring the reader into the fevered dreams of her characters, and she succeeds – but will you want to go where she takes you?

The young woman Ellie meets online, Lori, at first appears to be insane. She believes her God – a primitive deity of chaos – has been raping and torturing her, and fathered her defective son, Joshua. When she was pregnant, her parents insisted she keep the baby, who has clung to life despite anencephaly and is taken care of by her parents.

[Spoilers follow.]

We at first assume Lori is an unreliable narrator. The story is about halfway over when the reader hears directly from Lori's cruel sadist of a God, and soon Ellie, too, is experiencing manifestations of His ability to intervene in events....

Traditional horror stories leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to reality, where the fantastic elements are explained as existing in a character's mind, or as the result of a malevolent supernatural force. This is not one of those stories; the reader is asked to accept the reality of this sadistic God. Even folie à deux (the psychological phenomenon of shared madness between partners) is ruled out, with a folie à Deus (the madness of God) animating the events. This is a fantasy detached from and hostile to reality, relying on notes of blasphemy, disgust, and sexual transgression to bludgeon the reader.

Which is what makes this almost YA – the blasphemy is only interesting to those young enough to have not seen it before; the sex and torture scenes are no longer shocking if you've seen similar material used in the service of a worthier story. Since this is a review for general readers, I can't quote any of the intentionally transgressive, explicit sexual and religious imagery, but it feels like a cry for attention.

Philip José Farmer's porn novel Image of the Beast (reviewed here) and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch were published when such material was new and fresh. It isn't now, after decades of explicit sex and violence in mass media.

The characters in The Sadist's Bible are all unlikable. Without a character a mentally healthy reader is comfortable identifying with, the story is unpleasant to read and unrewarding. Popular horror relies on at least one character who serves as the moral center, threatened by evil and disorder but fighting to defeat it – Stephen King's The Shining had the boy, while Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs had Clarice Starling to serve as the morally strong foil to Hannibal Lector's evil serial killer. Great psychotic or evil characters need a frame of external reality and morality to contrast. The "normal" character does not have to win or even survive – but without the drama of a struggle, there's little reason to stay involved in the story.

The contrast between good and evil, between mental health and insanity, between order and chaos, between purity and contamination, is what makes for a good horror story. Cushing is an excellent writer who missed an opportunity to make her work more accessible by framing her two main characters as suffering a folie à deux, allowing the reader to keep their more comfortable moral framework. Having the sadistic God character speak directly to the reader implies a morally disordered universe where, as He suggests in several messages, "The arc of the universe is long, but bends toward moral degeneracy," a perversion of Martin Luther King's speeches, where "The arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice," itself paraphrasing Theodore Parker, an abolitionist and Unitarian minister who died in 1860.

A policeman who had dealt with the younger Lori makes a brief appearance. His grounded-in-reality, normal point of view could have been expanded to frame the story of the two doomed lovers, or Ellie could have been strengthened as a character to more fully resist the demon-God and break free of His clutches. But the story is weakened by its depressing lack of conflict – Ellie and Lori plod toward their fate of endless sexual torture in the demon-God's Hell without putting up much of a fight.

Iain Bank's Hell and torture scenes in Surface Detail, which are similarly gory and sexualized, were set inside a computer simulation designed as punishment for criminals – The Sadist's Bible is a torture simulation for the reader as designed by the author.

If you like this sort of thing – sexual torture and mutilation, dwelling on the disgusting and profane – Cushing's writing is powerful. But stories with no heart should come with warning labels.

Jeb Kinnison discovered science fiction in second grade, starting with Tom Swift books and quickly moving to Heinlein juveniles and adult science fiction. He studied computer and cognitive science at MIT, and later did supercomputer work at a think tank that developed parts of the early Internet (where the engineer who decided on ‘@‘ as the separator for email addresses worked down the hall.) Writing science fiction with the Substrate Wars series.
Links: http://SubstrateWars.com , http://JebKinnison.com

Latest book: https://www.amazon.com/Shrivers-Substrate-Wars-Jeb-Kinnison-ebook/dp/B018HTK76W


The Galactic Center Companion by Gregory Benford

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The Galactic Center Companion:

An Authorized Guide to the Galactic Center

by Gregory Benford

(Lucky Bat Books, March 2014)

Reviewed by Louis West

Gregory Benford is an astrophysicist and prolific hard-SF author who’s published dozens of works over the last forty years, won Nebula and John W. Campbell awards in addition to being nominated multiple times for Hugos and yet more Nebula awards. He wrote the six novel Galactic Center series between 1977 and 1995, which postulates “a galaxy in which sentient organic life is in constant warfare with sentient electromechanical life” [Wikipedia], all while also publishing a variety of other SF books and professional scientific papers. The Companion is a collection of pieces Greg has written about the series over the years, plus a few related additions, all brought together here for the first time:

  • An Introduction by the author

  • “A Hunger for the Infinite,” a post-series novella that appeared in Robert Silverberg’s Far Horizons anthology in 1999

  • Galactic Center Astronomy, 2013, that provides a current overview of what the sky probably looks like in our galaxy’s center

  • What Life at Galactic Center might be like and the various known astrophysical factors that would constrain it

  • Writing the Galactic Center Series and how this series of books evolved over the two decade span of their creation

  • Astrophysical Journal, 1988: An Electrodynamic Model of the Galactic Center

  • Perspectives on Benford’s work by two book critics and a personal interview, and

  • About Gregory Benford

Benford’s writing style in the Galactic Center series comprises an intriguing blend of scientific exposition and conflict between organic and mechanical life. In “A Hunger for the Infinite,” I particularly appreciated his efforts to capture what a mechanical’s POV might actually be like since it represents a truly alien life form. Specifically, he hypothesizes that mechanicals would “think” in non-linear ways, unlike organics, and, for the two types of life forms to communicate, he shows various ways they struggle to bridge that gap. A common theme in a number of the novels is also the Mantis, a mechanical with a driving need to understand organic life by using them to construct bizarre, still-living art.

The Life at Galactic Center and Writing the Galactic Center Series sections are for the hard-core Benford fans. In these, the author does a thorough job of explaining how these six novels came to be and the space-based life ecology he envisioned might exist around the energy-intensive galactic center. It’s one thing to build a new world around a series of books, another to create an entire alien ecology. I’ve never read anything quite as extensive, covering everything from grazing photovores to predatory metalvores.

For those who revel in the scientific details of galactic astrophysics, the Galactic Center Astronomy section and Benford’s 1988 Astrophysical Journal article provide an in depth review of recent astronomical observations plus a comprehensive mathematical treatment explaining some of the features at our galaxy’s center. Warning: the math is intense, but the photos are fascinating.

The most compelling portion of this collection for me is the Perspectives, which includes two in depth reviews plus an interview. Both reviewers lauded Benford’s work and do an excellent job summarizing the plots and main characters in each of the six novels that make up this collection. Having not read these books in ages, these summaries reminded me of the tremendous scope of the series which spans over 36,000 years. The interview, though, provided me with the best insight into Benford’s work: In answer to the question “Will our species survive its (this century’s) wonders and terrors?” Benford replied: “Sure, easily. We’re mean, stupid, ugly and the terror of all other species—but we're damned hard to kill.” With a philosophy like that, Benford’s stories will always tantalize, challenge and uplift. Thanks for a fantastic journey, Greg.

An essential work for diehard Galactic Center novel aficionados that will no doubt spark interest in those coming to the books for the first time.

Louis West. Sub-atomic physics, astronomy, biophysics, medical genetics and international finance all lurk in Louis’ background. He’s fond of hard SF, writes reviews for a variety of Speculative Fiction publications and volunteers at several New England SF&F conferences. As an Author-in-Progress, his SF writing explores both Nanopunk and Biopunk genres.


Collective Suicide by Michelle Scalise

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Collective Suicide

By Michelle Scalise

(Crossroad Press, 2012)

“I am the Shadow that Walks There”
“Evil Enchantments by Song”
“How Far We Fall from Grace”
“The Feel of Blue Lips”
“The Disinterment of Ophelia”
“The Dead Deeds of Poets”
“Patron Saint of Walking Ghosts”
“Blue Rose Tattoo”
“The Night Around Me, Falling”
“Black Train”
“Lunch at The Kibbey Crematorium”
“The Beautiful Ones”
“Visitor's Day”

Lonely Souls, edited by Gordon Van Gelder

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Lonely Souls

Edited by Gordon Van Gelder

(Spilogale, Inc., May 1, 2013, e-pub, $5.99)


“Goliath of Gath” by Jan Lars Jensen
“The Demands of Ghosts” by Eric Carl Wolf
“One Day at the Zoo” by Rand B. Lee
“Final Kill” by Chris DeVito

Empire State -- "The Biggest" by James Patrick Kelly

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Empire State, March 2012

"The Biggest" by James Patrick Kelly

Reviewed by Richard E.D. Jones

Adam Christopher is a very lucky author. First, his debut novel Empire State, about New York City, an alternate reality version of that city, and the superheroes and private dicks that populate the two, gets published by Angry Robot.

The book is actually pretty good, although we're not here to review that. The point is, though, it's a pretty good book that manages to attract some attention. Working quickly, Angry Robot decides to start actively encouraging pros and amateurs to do a bit of fan fiction in the world of Empire State.

And here's where author Adam Christopher gets so very lucky. One of the people who decided to contribute to the world-building effort is a man named James Patrick Kelly.

And James Patrick Kelly, well, he's James Patrick Kelly. I mean, come on, the dude has won major awards, had a long and distinguished career and, for my money, is one of the best short-story writers out there. I certainly remember dancing the happy dance when I discovered his website and saw all those stories of his available for free.

The good news for the folks behind the world-building of Empire State, is that getting James Patrick Kelly to write a story set in that milieu did exactly what they wanted: The story got me interested in reading Empire State because of the author of this shared-world story. Also, because Kelly's been monkeying around in this universe, I'm glad I purchased the book in the first place and I'll certainly spread the word. So. Mission accomplished. Still, though, there's the actual story and I did have my doubts.

This is Kelly's first superhero story. There are a number of tropes and pitfalls many new writers fall into when they first try to step into this expansive, but still rigidly structured genre. I worried that he would make a severe misstep, maybe pursue something old and worn out under the mistaken belief that it was something new because he'd never heard of it. I worried a lot.

I am an idiot.

Sure superheroes come with a lot of very distinct baggage. Sure some of the genre conventions are difficult to grasp by outsiders. Sure it's easy to fall into the trap of making the power the story instead of by whom and how the power is wielded. But, come on. This is James Patrick Kelly. I shoulda known.

He, at least, did know. "The Biggest" by James Patrick Kelly is a great short story, calling back to the Depression-era times that saw the birth of the superhero and the birth of the comic book.

Filbrick Van Loon was, like so many at the time, unemployed. Big, as he liked to be called, had worked for the grocer before his till kept coming up short. After that, he'd drifted into bootlegging and being a thug for a local loan shark. That all changed when he rescued those people from the burning building.

When Big concentrated, he could draw "stuff" up into himself, making his body grow to enormous heights and sizes, becoming super strong in the process. The only problem was, the more stuff he brought in, the less he was able to move and, at really big heights, the less he was able to think. Not a good combination.

When the bootlegging begins to get hot in Utica, Big heads to the big city. Along the way, he meets the Governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who barely remembers giving Big a medal of honor for the rescue and causing him to think about using his powers for good, rather than personal gain.

Big embraces Roosevelt, asking for a card that he might use to get a job fighting crime with his powers. Roosevelt, his mind mostly on his upcoming run for President, gives Big the card and then promptly forgets about it.

Once Big hits the Big Apple, he has an eventful twenty-four hours. He gets big and removes the stinking corpse of King Kong from where it had fallen from the Empire State Building. He also changes into his costume in a phone booth. Unfortunately, he left all the rest of his stuff, including Roosevelt's card, in the phone booth and someone walked off with it.

After a sleepless night at the poor house, Big goes to the bridge dedication at which Roosevelt will be speaking. There's an intervention by another powered New Yorker, and Big must make a quick decision, that leads to a . . . big sacrifice.

I'll be straight with you, readers. Right up until the very end, this was a remarkably good story, full of breezy dialogue, great period touches and a nice use of powers, especially showing the possible consequences of their use.

It's just the end I'm having trouble with. Kelly brings us right up to the very moment of Big's decision and action and then ends the story. It cuts to a current-day Wikipedia entry, which gives a quick overview of Big's big day and what happened to him at the bridge. I really felt like this was a cop out.

The Wikipedia entry felt like it came out of nowhere, as if Kelly had decided enough was enough and it was time to move on.

Except for the ending, I really did like this story. It had some believable characters and some fantastic situations. As usual, Kelly grabbed me by the eyeballs and tugged me along for a neat little story.

It's definitely worth reading, especially seeing as how it's free. Give it a chance.


Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine: Best of Science Fiction

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"Mug" by Edwina Harvey
Image"Trouble Leaves a Scent Trail" by Constance Cooper
"Evensong" by T-Rex
"The Brass Man" by John Borneman
"Acquired Tastes" Stephen Dedman
"The Day After the Census" by Lawrence M. Schoen
"Absolution" by Barbara Robson
"Murderworld" by Lee Battersby
"Parity Check" by Dirk Flinthart
"A Small Blue Planet for the Pleasantly Insane" by Douglas A. Van Belle
"The Beating of Butterfly Wings" by Brandon Alspaugh
"Loss Leader" by Simon Haynes
"Trade Barrier" by Dave Luckett
"The Jerk Who Fell to Earth" by Tom Holt
"CDX" by Tracina Jackson-Adams
"Are You Ready for the End of the World?" by Danny Adams

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine: Best of Horror

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"The Elves Hate You" by Matthew Bey
"Hamlyn" by Paul Haines
"Samhain: Lessons from the Dead" by Lesleigh Force
"The Facts of the Van Helsing Case" by Stephen Dedman
"Tangled" by Martin Livings
"Suffer the Little Children" by Rowena Cory Daniells
"The Hobbyist" by Lee Battersby
"An Alien Abduction" by Mark Patrick Lynch
"Body and Soul Art" by Eugie Foster
"Corpus Christi" by Dirk Flinthart
"The Memory of Breathing" by Lyn Battersby

My True Love Sent To Me by Elizabeth Hopkinson

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"Twelve Lords A-Leaping"
"Eleven Ladies Dancing"
"Ten Drummers Drumming"
"Nine Pipers Piping"
"Eight Maids A-Milking"
"Seven Swans A-Swimming"             
"Six Geese A-Laying"
"Five Gold Rings"
"Four Colly Birds"
"Three French Hens"
"Two Turtle Doves"
"A Partridge in a Pear Tree"

The Ladder at the Bottom of the World: A Collection of Short Stories by Terry Dartnall

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“The Ladder at the Bottom of the World”
“The Thirteenth City”
“The Santa Fe”
“Magic: A Quartet”
“I Am Dan’s Brain: Memoirs of a Much Traveled Mind”
“The Strange Case of Starbase 6”
“Thou Shalt Not Covet Your Neighbour’s Arthropod”
“Did the Earth Move for You Darling?”
“No Way to Treat a Lady”
“Pushing the Envelope”
“Raising Father Kilpatrick”

Shadow Box edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings and Angela Challis

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“The Ol’ Ferret Blues (or Weasel Rips My Flesh)” by Geoffrey Maloney
“Coming Home” by Rick Kennett
Image“Shadows’ Bride” by Marie Brennan
“The Ghost” by Eric Christ
“Cruel Summer (Sand)” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
“Downpour” by Trent Jamieson
“Entwined” by Chris Barnes
“Counting Corpses” by Karl El-Koura
“Love Shot” by Ken Goldman
“The First” by Kylie Seluka
“Changing” by Susan Wardle
“Blurring” by Nathan Burrage
“Reclamation” by Deborah McDonnell
“Tattoo Ink” by Suzanne Church
“Business Week” by Samantha Henderson
“Clown Face” by Daniel Slaten
“Cruel Summer (Sun)” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings