Gods of Justice Review: Blunt Force Trauma

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

Blunt Force Trauma by Kevin Hosey truly does play some head games with you. There isn’t a lot of “superhero action” in this one, but the one hero/power that you do get to experience is pretty cool. It starts right at the beginning, giving the reader the advance warning of Psykore’s precognitive superpower. It’s done almost as a second voice inside his head, giving him a heads up on what’s about to happen with a couple of well chosen words. This gives him the advantage on his opponent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work on inanimate objects, like a bomb, which quickly ends his career and causes his power to go defunct at the beginning of the story.

We pick up the story many years later, with Psykore making ends meet, permanently wounded and defeated by the bomb, living alone. He gets a call from his mentor/partner from even before we met Psykore, to tell him about the death of his partner’s daughter. His partner quickly changes gears, however, and tells him not to come. Apparently, they had some sort of major falling out back in the day, which is hinted at and slowly unveiled as the story moves along.
This story specializes not on cool super heroics or flashy powers, but on relationships and plot twists. I saw the love interest coming, and I suspected the baby’s origin maybe halfway in, but I was taken completely by surprise with the identity of the mastermind behind it all. Caught by surprise, and left gasping for breath, with my mind spinning to grasp the ramifications of it all.
Many stories make the mistake of throwing in a random culprit or piece of information at the very end, in order to effect a plot twist of this magnitude. It’s called Deus ex Machina, which is Latin and means God of the Machine. However, stories like this, in today’s modern world of storytelling, feel contrived, unplanned, or the reader feels cheated. Not so with Blunt Force Trauma. The clues were all there, nothing was truly hidden, it just didn’t come together until the end.
It was a little on the slow-paced side, as so much of it was angst and relationship-building material, leaking out tips and hints of what had happened in their past, but in the end, my overwhelming feel is that this story hurt to read. Not that it was bad writing, but that the actual story hurt. I didn’t want it to be that way. I hurt for Psykore; I hurt for the kid. I just wanted to raise my hands into the air and scream “It’s not fair!” Life isn’t fair, and good literature reflects life.
You can get more of Kevin Hosey’s work on his site, www.kevinhosey.net, his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.


The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom
Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward

Gods of Justice Review: Identity Crises

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

***Warning: Spoilers on this one***

Identity Crises by Lisa Gail Green is the story of identical twin sisters who have more in common than either of them realize. One sister is the classically perfect kid: the best grades (Easily), the social butterfly, the shining extra curriculars, the boyfriends, and, to top it all off, super powers. The other, less fortunate sister, struggles to pass, never gets the guy she likes, feels awkward, and buries herself in video games and books at home.

As the story goes (that sounds so legendary), Leslie, the less-than-perfect, follows Miranda “Mir,” the more-than-you-could-ask-for, into the bad side of town at night to catch her doing something she shouldn’t. I like names to mean something, without being Pilgrim’s Progress level of allegorical. Green uses extremely subtle names for the twins that are not at first obvious. Leslie = less while Miranda, Mir = more. Very clever, though what mean parents they must have!

Naturally, Less catches More changing into her superhero costume in a back alley. Then she, in turn, gets caught in the back alley by More’s boyfriend (who Less loved first, of course). The boyfriend and Less leave the safety of the alley to watch the battle between SuperMore and the Big Bad Ugly guy, who is a tech villain. In the course of the battle, Mayhem, the villain, attacks an “innocent bystander” (naturally, he picks Less) and the boyfriend jumps in the way to save her. The boyfriend gets frozen, SuperMore takes a serious hit/injury, and Less shows that she’s braver and smarter than she thinks she is. Mayhem takes off with his new popsicle as hostage/collateral, and throws back a meeting time and place.

Less helps More back home, and More insists that Less must take her place and go rescue the boyfriend, as More is temporarily confined to bed until she heals. Less practices all day with the magical stone in the belt (source of powers) and argues with herself about whether or not she can pull this off,and be the hero.

I’m going to leave you in the dark about what happens to the boyfriend and the villain, but she does make a pretty good showing of herself as a hero, and the twins decide to both be SuperMore, as the better sister confesses that she always thought the other one was better, due to her “street smarts” and quick thinking.

Now that you have the summarized storyline, on to my review. In short, the plot/action of this story was very well done. The villain acted reasonably, while still being classically villainous. In fact, there’s one part, toward the end, where the villain is talking too much (they do that), and starts whining about how the hero’s not acting the way she is supposed to. He studied videos of her moves and style and spent hours fire-proofing his suit. Shut up and take it, whiney-butt, she’s taking you down. I loved that moment.

Some of the best foreshadowing in the action was during that initial scene where Less is watching SuperMore’s battle. Despite her self-deprecating, she thinks fast when she gets involved, and sees errors the sister is making, tricks the villain is laying, before anyone else does. It’s a good setup for her being successful later, and painted well. It makes me “buy-in” to the sister being good at it later, while defusing the bomb of the “instantly amazing superhero” that this could have been. A cape and a mask do not make you invincible. (They just make you look really cool!)

However, reviews, like coins, have two sides. What I didn’t like about the story, was in the characterization. Not that the characters aren’t good ones. I like the idea of Less-More twins, but the nature of the writing made the characters difficult to bring out. Let me explain. The problem with Flash Fiction (very short stories) is that there is very little in the way of resources to play with. With such limited word count, you have to develop the characters fast, and if you want to make the reader care about them, you don’t have much time to do it, because the climax is right around the corner. If you are working with deep, interesting characters, this makes it even harder. Green could have spent her entire word count just developing these twin sisters. Instead, she has to paint their entire lives and relationship as fast as she can in order to move the story forward. Thus, the characterizations come across a little rushed and heavy-handed. I think it would have been nice if they had either tried to show a little less depth, or lengthened the story to allow for smoother development.

The other thing that got me was the first person narrative. I actually have comments on both side for this. First, let me say that I’ve never been a fan of first person writing. My first impression is almost always “Why are you telling me this?” It hardly ever feels like an actual recounting of the events as experienced by the person telling them. I tend to avoid it myself. However, I did not at first even notice that it was first person, I was just reading. That’s a really good thing. Being first person, however, meant Less spent a lot of time telling me how great her sister was, and how pathetic she was. Telling is something said to be avoided in fiction anyway, and this just got a little tiring after a while. I once broke up with a girl for the same reason. Despite that, I did like Less, and really enjoyed her meeting with Mayhem.

In the end, the girls decide to share the identity of the Super Hero. (Is it split personality if you have two people sharing one personality instead of two personalities sharing one person?) Their resolution and disagreement over who is the better sister was a little too easy for me. Perhaps because of the first person narrative, we never got inside More’s head. I was rather hoping they would find a way to be super heroes together, but both being the same super hero has some interesting possibilities as well.

My summation: worth reading, I just wanted more of it to read.

You can find more about and from Lisa Gail Green at her website or on her blog. She’s also a delightful person to follow on Twitter.

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom
Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward

Gods of Justice Review: Going My Own Way

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward struck me as an exercise in characterization. The plot was thin and the setting, other than the midst of a building on fire, was nonexistent. That being said, the characterization was fun. It was a very interesting twist to see a super-powered individual stepping into what is traditionally a mortal’s job.

The story follows Daniel Balin as he and his partner work through a fire trying to rescue people trapped in the farthest possible safe place. The narrative is split between the current action and flashbacks of Daniel’s life, stepping stones that led him to where we find him in this story. The depth of Daniel’s character, and his decision not to follow in his father’s famous footsteps, make an excellent main character. I particularly like the touch that we see him and his father interact at the end. Don’t expect any tearful reunions or fatherly advice, however. Despite Daniel’s personal life decisions, he isn’t any different at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. Daniel is a static, instead of dynamic, character.

At the beginning, his partner’s character starts to develop, and it feels good. However, about half way through, she seems to just become another complication for him to overcome. A shame, really. She was almost the weakness that otherwise doesn’t seem to exist for him. Remember, even Superman has his kryptonite. Daniel isn’t all powerful, I was just never afraid for him, nor felt pity for him during the story. I liked Daniel, I just didn’t feel any sympathy toward him.

The plot of the story was rescuing the group of people from the fire. There were some good twists here, despite being a very simplistic plot. The safe room housing the people was in the farthest section of the basement of the building, and the closer stairwell has already fallen victim to the fire. The first explosion was a little predictable, but fun and well done, with even an injury to complicate things. The final entrapment from the fire, however, was more of a surprise. It was also the closest I came to questioning Daniel’s safety and/or success.

The flashbacks, instead of adding complication and revealing plot, merely revealed character. No bad thing, but it helps the character without helping the plot. Ideally, a flashback can do both.

As an overall read, the characters were unchanged from beginning to end of story. Despite being static, the characterization was deep and rich, with lots of potential and unique traits all his own. The conflict, though surely great for those trapped, was minimal for the main character, and almost non-existent for the reader. The setting was limited, being almost completely restricted to the fiery basement, though well-painted otherwise.

The next installment of this series will be Lisa Gail Green’s Identity Crisis.

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom

Gods of Justice Review: The Daughter of Nyx

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

The next story in the anthology is The Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom. First, let me say what a wonderful world Kelly Wisdom has created here. Packed full of conflict and angst, with a 1984 dystopian feel to it. We follow the main character, “Vee” (short for Veronica which you don’t find out until late in the story) as she deals with a combination of relationship issues and governmental oppression issues, which resonate closely with some self-worth questions. The story builds to a wonderful series of events of self-discovery, along with a not-so-gentle tug on your heart strings.

I have little to say about the plot this time, mostly because it is quite well done and I don’t want to ruin it. Suffice to say that Vee is hiding a secret that the government would kill her over, and this keeps her from getting close to anyone. (Does it have your attention yet? I thought so.)

Let’s look at this world, which Wisdom reveals slowly, mysteriously. We begin in what feels like a church, during a sermon, but something feels slightly wrong. Soon we realize that it is a church of the government, the Bureau, which advocates following the very strict laws of this society (curfews, missing the Bureau’s services, sedition, etc) and pay the “atonement” of any minor infractions. The oppression and control do not stop at the walls of the chapel. THe lower class, which appears to be most of society, are kept poor, and under control, scrapping not only for food, but even for chunks of coal for heat. Much of this world and society is not blatantly painted, but hinted at, as shadows of a story seen through the eyes of our POV characters. This is how a master painter creates a landscape: one horizon at a time, and letting your mind fill in the brushstrokes that aren’t really there.

Characterization is actually the one stumbling block that got me as I read this story. It wasn’t until page 13 (out of 21) that I finally was certain of the gender of the protagonist. Identified as Vee until then, I had the suspicion of femininity, but not the confirmation. The first person narration, coupled With the roughness of the society, Vee’s job as a ‘lowly dishwasher,’ and the romantic interest between her and Mia, kept me from being certain of her gender. Does it matter? Not too much, the characterization was strong regardless, and Vee’s conflicts, both interior and exterior, were well established. However, that question nagged me for those first 13 pages, preventing me from being able to completely immerse myself in the story. It’s tough to focus on what is happening when you don’t know who you are.

All together, this was a wonderful story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I suspected the plot almost from the beginning, but certain twists caught me by complete surprise. Well done, Kelly Wisdom. Thank you for the pleasure of sharing your world. Read more about and from Kelly Wisdom at www.kelly-wisdom.com

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban

Gods of Justice Review: The Mass Grave of John Johnsons

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

The first story in the collection is The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban. Urban’s true strength in this story is the extremely creative (though macabre) ideas he works into the characters, world, and plots.

Most of the setting is presumed to be “Earth normal” and “modern times.” A mortician is given the mystery of a mass grave of 44 bodies, and calls upon the county, the state, and even the federal level for assistance. Our first clue that something in this world might be different is the Federal Office of Super Heroes that finally answers his call. Superpowered individuals being licensed and employed by the government isn’t part of our status quo. I don’t think. Let me check with my CIA contacts on that; I’ll get back to you. This is an interesting idea that isn’t present even in most of the current superhero dogma. Makes sense, though, and certainly smacks of the way Government works. If it has something to do with power or control, they’re going to want to be in charge of it.

The heroes from the FOSH organization have very specific and limited abilities. A team of three arrives to assist the good doctor with his problem. The first of the trio goes by the name WhoDied and has the ability to tell who a body belonged to no matter the state, or how much matter is left. His companions, a girl named Locality and a quiet youth called 4D, can tell where and when a body died, respectively. Without a doubt, these are some unique abilities that have rather specific applications. Coming up with unique super powers, while creative, isn’t all a character needs. A character, particularly ones so unusual as these, need their own voices. WhoDied succeeds in this, creating a macabre vision of bland detestation. The simple, matter-of-fact way that he goes about his wretched business makes one’s flesh tremble. Locality, on the other hand, mostly serves as narrator to explain subtle points of WhoDied’s work and the situation at hand as it unravels to be more mysterious, and devious, than it at first seemed. 4D has almost no character at all, serving primarily as a vehicle to put the feather in the cap of the introductory (primary?) plot.

These characters are weaved in to this setting through the use of three plot lines: the mystery of the 44 dead bodies, the mostly interior-conflict subplot of the main POV character’s paternity, and the prevention of the 45th murder. The mystery is handily solved, but the initial action of the story, in fact most of the story, centers on it. The solution of that mystery yields a new plot to follow. These two plots are uniquely twisted, which is wonderful, and their pacing is well done. However, they are each rather simply solved. There feels to be no real challenge to them.

The third plot centers around an internal conflict as to whom the narrator’s real father may be. While this plot is worked heavily into the story from the very beginning, and continues until the very end, it feels weak. As I read the story, I was interested in the mass grave, and I cared about preventing the next murder, but the daddy-dilemma didn’t matter to me at all. It was an afterthought, a minor character trait. Finally, though we got the answer, it felt obvious and unfulfilling in the end.

I came away feeling as though this story was a bonus, side story taken from a rich, wonderful, interesting world. I felt as though the characters were much deeper than shown here, and that the plots, at least the one about the dad, continued beyond where the story stopped. I hope to find that this story is, indeed, a small taste of a larger world. Meanwhile, it got my feet wet for the rest of Gods of Justice, and I look forward to Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom.

The Rest of the Series:
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom