Kick Ass Stories You Should Really Check Out: Part 3! Cybernetic Armour, Feral Vampires and Mythological Bad-Assesery (With a Dash of Romance)

Our pal Kit hits us up with some more Kick Ass Stories You Should Really Check Out!

Well it’s the time of the year where love and romantic themes are shoved down your throat wherever you go. It’s a day where you’ll find one half of the internet covered in soppy messages, hearts and flowers, while the other half complains about soppy messages, hearts and flowers. What it also leads to is writers using it as a lazy excuse for a theme for their material. With that in mind, you’ve guessed what this article’s theme is: Romance! Though each of these stories is great, even if romance isn’t your thing.

This will probably be going up on the site after Valentine’s Day itself. Sorry I didn’t get it up in time but I was busy eating bacon and playing video games inside a fort. I’m sure you all understand.

Romance is in nearly all of our literature in one way or another, be it an action hero winning the heart of the beautiful reporter they barely know, the loving old parents in a kid’s book, or the relationship that starts off so happy and joyful but ends in ruin and then there’s is also Twilight (unfortunately a fair bit of romance is kind of crap, so the less said about Twilight, the better). It has, of course, featured in some of the stories I’ve mentioned before – Another End to the Empire and Tom the Universe are both excellent and well worth checking out (also, read my previous articles with them in if you haven’t already.. go on, do it now…).

We’ll be covering a range of genres today, and to start we have Power Armour – A Love Story. Yes, it’s a love story, but if that isn’t your kind of thing then it has power armour, a dystopian future, time travel and assassins. I’m pretty sure at least one of those things should appeal to you! Then After the Cure – A Post-Post-Apocalyptic setting (is that the actual term for it? If not, it is now!), Vampires, dealing with the psychological trauma of having eaten people and, yes, a bit of romance. Finally another physical book – The Song of Achilles – Achilles, Ancient Greek myths, wars, gods and romance. Sounds like a pretty fun Friday night!

 

 

Power Armor: A Love Story

“I don’t mean to scare you, Mira, but where I come from there are . . . secret police. Unlike anything you can imagine. Cyborgs. Shapeshifters. I’d have no chance against one of them. Unless . . .” He showed the hint of a smile. “In the same lab was something else we’d been working on. This armor.”

Set in the modern day the story follows Anthony Blair and his attempt to save earth from the dystopian future he escaped from. This is a very dangerous possible future he must prevent, with incredibly high tech cyborgs and assassins, and he’s certain that at least one has been sent after him.

Believe it or not this is really the most romantic story we’ll check out this week. It does have a lot of cool sci-fi concepts, although these are used far more to drive the plot along, or as metaphors to communicate the story’s themes.

For those of you capable of feelings outside of apathy, whiskey and rage (yes, you can skip this part Adam) hopefully you’ll find this as adorable and lovely a story as I did. This is where some implied spoilers crop up, so skip forward a paragraph if you’d prefer to!

This story really emphasises the idea that you can meet someone in the strangest of situations, and that loving someone will mean you’ll have to let your defences down, meaning that those you care most about can hurt you more than anyone else. It also shows that actually this really is a risk worth taking.

If you, your partner or anyone really wants a good romantic story then they should check this out. If you feel like you’ll be forced to listen to something romantic but prefer sci-fi, this should provide enough mech suits and dystopian ideas for you to enjoy!

power armour

Author: David Barr Kirtley

Link: http://www.drabblecast.org/2013/02/14/drabblecast-272-power-armor-a-love-story/

 

 

After the Cure

“I was shot with the cure in the dark. Later, someone would tell me it was a Tuesday, but before the tranq dart I didn’t know such a thing existed. It was either day or night, hungry or sated, alive or dead.”

This story has some warnings:

  • If you don’t like horror, specifically feral vampires – move along.
  • If you don’t like graphic descriptions of gore – move along.
  • If you want a romantic sparkly vampire – seriously, move along.
  • The first 10 minutes of this recording is promoting a sponsored episode of the Drabblecast they eventually do (which one day I’ll include in one of these). You may want to skip this.

Right, with that out of the way, onto the review. This is a story about both a girl who’s survived a vampiric apocalypse and society, as it tries to rebuild itself. Vampires in this world are wild and feral. They live on instinct, eating and feasting on anyone they find. Anyone who survives a bite becomes one of them. Mankind has been fighting back though and they’re beginning to win, having developed a cure. The cure returns people from this monstrous state back to human, letting them return to a normal life. Well, that’s the theory at least.

In a world trying to rebuild itself we find that though Vale, our main character, survived the apocalypse, she didn’t make it through ‘pure’. She was turned into a monster and spent years hunting people, tearing flesh from bone. Now, she’s back to normal but life is not easy, as although the cure was meant to erase all her memories of her time infected, it hasn’t. To make matters worse, she was infected for so long that most of her pre-infection memories have gone. She barely knows who she was and, without name or identity, has to face a society where, just a short while ago, someone would have shot her on sight and many still might.

The story is focused on Vale coping with this trauma, trying to find a way for herself in this world, while dealing with the monster she feels is still inside her. She has killed and everyone knows it. It doesn’t matter to most people that she had no control over herself, or even a concept of self, at the time. It’s a very introspective tale, more of the narrative dealing with what she thinks of herself and her feelings.

I like how the story explores what might happen after a monster-based apocalypse and how society might fair. There’s plenty of fantastic stories set during an apocalypse, but if mankind wins, it either ends at that point. We just assume society rebuilds itself, all of the monsters die, or they return to normal with no apparent side effects.

There is some romance in this story, with Vale trying to rebuild some kind of life for herself (obviously, or it wouldn’t be on this list!). However, I feel that here the romance is a plot device within a horror story. If you want a short mushy tale, then scroll back up and click the link to Power Armour. If you want an excellent story, about someone trying to find their place in a dark world where monsters still roam, with no guarantee she’ll find anything or anyone, then this will be more your thing.

after the cure

Author: Carrie Ryan

Link: http://www.drabblecast.org/2014/08/02/drabblecast-33-cure/

 

 

The Song of Achilles

“Name one hero who was happy.”

I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I can’t.”
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.” 

Achilles. We all know the name, and the story of the invincible god-touched man who led the charge at the battle of Troy. There will be some small spoilers in this review, as I’ll assume that most people know the basics of this legend. If you do want the spoiler free summary though:

This book is excellent. Based on the myth, but from a different point of view (Yay! Perspective again!), it contains a very sweet love story as well. If you want some ass kicking, and one of the greatest heroes in any legend, then this is for you. If you want a love story about somebody who cares deeply for someone else then this is also for you.

Right, onto the details. This is a story where Achilles, although a huge element, is not our protagonist. This is the story of Patroclus. He always plays a huge part in the legend, being depicted as either Achilles’ closest friend or lover. This book portrays their relationship as a romantic one and shows us Patroclus’ side, instead of Achilles’, which most interpretations run with.

The book begins with their youth. As a child, Patroclus is innocent and caring, qualities that stay with him as he grows up. He acts as a moral guide to Achilles when he can, while supporting him as he fulfils the prophecies that will make him a hero. At the beginning, Achilles is faced with a choice – pursue a happy and simple life, or become one of the greatest heroes there has ever been, but at the price of his happiness.

Achilles is idealistic and hopeful, wanting to take on the world and make it his own. Patroclus deeply cares for Achilles and thinks the world of him. He shows us the side of Achilles the legends don’t speak of, his carefree and forever optimistic side. Achilles always expects things to work themselves out, largely thanks to the support of Patroclus, who helps him deal with the difficulties he faces.

There’s action as well. We see Achilles and Patroclus both kick ass on the battlefield, and also try their hands at the political games played at war. Their relationship has everything, from an awkward first love, the disapproving parent, and heated arguments as the relationship gets strained under the pressure of both prophecy and war.

I really enjoyed this book and do highly recommend it. If you’re a fan of mythology, or a fan of romance, this book holds up as a fantastic read.

achilles

 

Author: Madeline Miller

Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Song-Achilles-Madeline-Miller/dp/1408821982

 

Kit

 

Kick Ass Stories You Should Really Check Out: Part 2! Perspectives

Our pal Kit sometimes write for the site! This is one of those times.

First things first, I’ve updated the title of this series; it goes to show that a lack of proof reading will lead to poor wording! Also, there’s a fair chance I’ll occasionally chuck in the odd written short story if I feel one fits in with an article’s theme, though I’ll keep written books to no more than one per article.

As I mentioned in my last article, a few small spoilers will have snuck into this one too. They’ll be on the three stories I mention – The Wish of the Demon Achtromagk, Tom the Universe and The Sword in the Stone, along with a hinted spoiler for the anime/manga Death Note (so skip the next paragraph if you’d rather avoid this one).

With that out of the way on to the theme to this week’s article. We’ll be taking a look at perspectives. Each of these stories are from the perspective of something that isn’t exactly human. Perspective is a fun concept to play with so seeing a story from something else’s really turns a plot on its head. Another End to the Empire, a story I discussed in part one, shows what you can do by seeing the world from the villains’ point of view. I’d also point people in the direction of the Death Note that does the same thing, albeit in a far more serious tone. SPOILER: yes, Light is the bad guy… it doesn’t matter if you try to excuse his actions or not, he is the villain. Though, going by how many fans support him, it says a lot about how perspective and a strong charisma affect an audience’s opinion.

Which is why, as mentioned before, for this article I’m picking stories that take a look at the world from the eyes of non-humans instead of looking at the direct change in moral perspective so much. One of these – T.H White’s The Sword in the Stone is a book. There is a Disney adapted film, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen I won’t be taking into account in this article!

 

The Wish of the Demon Achtromagk

“The demon Achtromagk, Prince of the Endless Plains, and Duke of the Wastes of Tomorrow, opened a portal to our universe, freeing it to perform feasts of flesh and debauchery, to bask in fire and know heat, touch flesh and know pain, and bathe in blood and know lust – except for one, slight miscalculation…”

This is one of my all-time favourites. There are many stories out there where a human gets trapped in an otherworldly or alien body that makes little to no sense for them. You may come across the stories where the horror gets trapped in a human body instead. This takes things in a different direction entirely. The Cthulian horror Achtromagk is hell-bent on taking over our dimension and bathing it in the blood of the innocent, whilst he rules upon a pile of corpses just like you’d expect. His plans are just a little disrupted when he accidentally transfers himself into a body a hell of a lot smaller, weaker and cuddlier than he was expecting.

This is a much sweeter story than you may expect. Its fun to see something we’d usually fear so much be reduced to something so opposite to its nature, then struggle with the physical and emotional limitations that come with this change.

The perspective shift in this story is more there for the plot’s sake, and to have fun, rather than any deeper meaning. There is the idea that who we physically are has a large impact on our personality, and there is a bit of a nature vs nurture thing going on. Either way it’s a story I prefer to enjoy on a surface level, rather than for any deeper meaning! After all, if I was to do that to every story I’d be here all day, and would probably be considering doing this as legitimate study, rather than as a bit of fun.

Norm Sherman, who hosts The Drabblecast, naturally gives a great performance for each voices in this story. I’ll probably not talk about his voice work too often as otherwise it would just be “Norm Sherman, who hosts The Drabblecast, naturally gives a great performance for each voice in this story” on repeat… see? I’m doing it already!

A lot of this story’s horror, oddly enough, ends up being much more relatable and potentially real than that implied at the outset. Focusing the horror on just one little girl throughout from a threat that feels very real for many kids is effective. That being said, it shouldn’t ruin your enjoyment as an adult (I’m assuming you are one here!).

This story also won the Drabblecasts People’s Choice Award for 2011.

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Author: Eugie Foster

Link: http://www.drabblecast.org/2011/08/17/drabblecast-214-the-wish-of-the-demon-achtromagk-drabble-my-hot-spot-by-jessica-broughton/

 

Tom the Universe

“I was a little confused during the Planck epoch (first 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang), but sometime during the Grand Unification epoch (up to 10^-35 seconds), I figured out what had happened. By the end of the Inflationary epoch (10^-32 seconds), I’d analyzed the previous universe and simulated in my mind all that had ever happened that I cared to see.”

The idea of a normal person being elevated to God has been in many works of fiction. This story takes the idea and puts a scientific spin on it (pseudo-science of course, but this is fiction we’re talking about) and so we see the tale of Tom, the man who becomes his own universe. Not in an egotistical way, but quite literally accidentally becomes a universe. This story focuses on Tom’s relationship with his fiancé, along with a couple of different possible futures based on the story’s early events. If you knew everything that was going to happen without your intervention (on a cosmic scale here) what would you do?

Without too big a spoiler this story shows that there times when some things may be better left unknown, or at least moved on from. The context of the universe as a perspective is such a unique choice that it stays an interesting and novel idea throughout. The author manages to have fun with the writing, using the context to draw parallels with current scientific theories of the big bang, along with a little humour word choice. There are some serious points made about the nature of relationships, and the use of perspective in this plot provides an ‘all knowing’, if not quite all powerful, point of view playing around with the traditional third person omniscient narrator perspective.

Ultimately this story could be delved into a lot more than I have here and I’d be pleased if anyone could get back to me with their thoughts on it!

 

Author: Larry Hodges

Link: http://escapepod.org/2011/04/28/ep290-tom-the-universe/

 

The Sword in the Stone

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“EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSORY.”

Some spoilers here for the Sword in the Stone, The Once and Future King, and generally King Arthur!

Finally, The Sword in the Stone, written by T H White. Where to start with this one? This is the story of King Arthur as a boy, up until he draws the sword to become the rightful king of England (because clearly this is a fair a politically sound way to elect a ruler). This is also the first non-audio book I’ve mentioned, however it is both one that was very special to me growing up, and is a book with making huge points on perspectives and this is my article so I’ll do what I want with it! I’m sure people have written very long essays on this story before, however I’ll keep it to a couple of paragraphs!

In this story, Merlin teaches Arthur the ways of political ideologies. This is quite a lot to pack in, considering this is a book kids can easily read and enjoy! Arthur is transformed into various animals and sees things from their perspectives, each representing a political stance, and experiences that way of life. Each ideology is unsubtle and taken to the extreme, with communist ants, anarchist geese and so on. Arthur endures his time as each animal and then relates back to Merlin what he has learned. White doesn’t do much to hide his opinions of each ideology or his lack of fondness for some of them. Is this an issue, or can one go with it, even if they disagree?

Politics aside, this is a book a kid can read – the story itself is full of fantasy and fun. For those who deeply care about historical, or even mythological, accuracy, I warn you not to think too hard on the subject (there’s a cameo from another of Britain’s heroes that very much doesn’t tie in to the usual Arthur mythos!).

This book covers Arthur’s childhood and how he is shaped to become the King we all know. Check out the rest of The Once and Future King to see what happens! In places the book may seem a little silly or immature for adult reading. However, this is not a theme that carries on throughout the series. In each book of The Once and Future King Arthur grows older, along with the target audience of the book. This is up until the final book/epilogue, The Book of Merlin, where the plot takes place around a debate of the very politics Arthur learned as a child.

The language throughout the book can feel a little outdated, but this is a book written in the 1930s so that’s to be expected. The morality and ethics of the characters, even the “good” ones, aren’t what we’d expect by today’s standards. This is, however, a book set in the fifth or sixth century, so that does fit with the time.

There is of course the Disney adaptation, that honestly I may have seen once but don’t really recall. From what I’ve seen it’s a pretty accurate, if abridged, set of events so of course you should try it as well!

To stop myself waffling on much longer I’ll close things off here. This really is a wonderful little story and well worth reading, by itself or better yet as part of The Once and Future King. The good news here is the whole series is only 639 pages for five books. That’s a breeze compared to Game of Thrones or Harry Potter (both of which are, of course, excellent as well!). Give it a read, or if you’re feeling lazy check out the film!

 

Author: T H White

Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sword-Stone-Essential-Modern-Classics/dp/000726349X

 

Kit

Kick Ass Stories to Listen to You Should Really Check Out Part 1!

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Our pal Kit sometimes write for the site! This is one of those times.

I’ve been meaning to get into the habit of writing more for this site, unfortunately until now inspiration has escaped me for something a bit more unique I can produce on a regular basis. I’ll still thrown in the odd rant or review of whatever takes my fancy but I wanted something a bit different for what I hope will be a bi-weekly endeavour! This is why I’ve set my sight on short stories I listen to, I really enjoy and find they fit into my day to day life incredibly easily, be it something to put on when I have to walk to the shops or put on in the background when I’m tidying the house I’ve found that short story podcasts or audio books help pass the time so much quicker.

Traditionally this would be more my brother’s shtick than mine so if you’re reading this Jonny then I hope you don’t mind me having a crack at it!

Now, the way this will work is every other week I’ll provide a short review or discussion of two or three short stories or one audio book. These are likely to not exactly be ‘up to date’ so if you’re into this sort of thing you may well have come across them before. Also, I won’t provide a score for any of them, purely because if I’m commenting on what could add up to a lot any numerical score could easily lose meaning over time. I’ll provide links where I can to these in the hope you’ll check them out and enjoy them yourselves! Most short stories are 30 minutes – an hour, though some can go on to three or four.

The websites I’ll link to provide this content for free and really are amazing. You’ll see most of them crop up each week so please support them if you can. Some do have the option to pay to get extra stories, though I’ll let you know if you’d need to pay to hear it in each review.

I’ll try to keep things general every time but some slight spoilers are inevitable to slip through.

So with this intro I’ll keep each review fairly short today and without further over explaining myself I’ll start today with three of my favourites!

 

Mongoose

This is the one that really got my addiction to listening to short stories started. It’s a two part sci-fi adventure based loosely on Lovecraftian lore that in a short space of time manages to create a wonderful and fascinating universe. Set in the future, it follows an adventure of Izreal Izzary and his ‘Cheshire Cat’ Mongoose who are pest controllers of a sort accepting a job on a spaceship to deal with an infestation of low level otherworldly monsters. Well, otherworldly pests but of course things don’t go to plan.

The story itself is engaging and fun and exciting, the characters feel very fleshed out and characterisation given to the adorable little tentacled horror that is Mongoose is fantastic and the otherworldly monsters described in the story are left crystal clear in your imagination and are truly fantastic. There’s a lot that’s only mentioned in passing during this episode that you just wish they’d explore and you’re left wanting much more from this universe.

It’s a good thing there are two great sequels to this story, but those are for another time.

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Written by: Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear.

Part 1 Link: http://www.drabblecast.org/2010/07/03/drabblecast-170-mongoose-part-i-by-sarah-monette-and-elizabeth-bear-drabble-the-monkeys-by-chris-munroe/

Part 2 Link: http://www.drabblecast.org/2010/07/10/drabblecast-171-mongoose-part-ii-by-sarah-monette-and-elizabeth-bear/

 

Another End of the Empire

Imagine you are the evil overlord Morgash, Emperor and feared tyrant. Imagine you have your very own oracle. Imagine she prophesises a chosen one will soon be born in your empire and this will lead to your fall. What would you do? Kill everyone born in the coming months? Seek them out and destroy them? Go into hiding? Or… Heavily invest in and make great efforts to improve the lives of the average citizens and try to make them happy?

This one is a lot of fun and I’m sure has the potential to inspire a Dungeons and Dragons game of some description. It’s only half an hour long and kept me smiling throughout. Needless to say it’s a very different take on a common fantasy scenario and well worth a listen to if you like your fantasy and want to try things from the villain’s perspective.

Written by: Tim Pratt

Link: http://podcastle.org/2010/01/26/podcastle-88-another-end-of-the-empire/

 

Captain Confederation

The amount of bureaucracy and red tape we all have to deal with in our day to day lives is ridiculous and one thing comics tend to step around is how much worse it would be for a super hero (unless you’re She-Hulk). Not Captain Confederation though. No fly zones, having to apply to get the best super hero jobs in each city and so much more keep getting in the way of his work! This is the story of how he deals with it when he’s had enough!

This is another quick and easy one so it doesn’t require all of your attention if you need to multitask, I recommend it if you like your super heroes but some sick part of you wants to see them struggle and get infuriated by day to day things. It pokes a lot of fun at the genre and makes jokes of some common tropes we’re used to seeing. Much as I enjoyed it I wouldn’t say this amongst the best short stories I’ve ever listened to but for super hero fans it’s a good bit of fun.

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Written by: Jim Robb

Link: http://www.drabblecast.org/2014/11/23/drabblecast-343-captain-confederation/

 

Kit