“The Somniscient,” or, “how has nobody here ever heard of a union?”

Richard Levesque
This book was a wild ride, and it was awesome. There were twists and turns everywhere, but at the end I was like “okay, yeah, that all made sense” – it never hit the “what is even happening” level, y’know?1
It’s set a bit less than 200 years in the future, and I do quite enjoy the way that changes in technology are integrated. Basically, someone went ahead and finished up Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology. It’s a mix of augmented reality interfaces for doing things and the ability to record and replay dreams, with direct control of the body’s sleep cycle built in. Which sounds handy, except it was made in a realistic world, which means it was funded by venture capitalists, which means it was turned into the most horrifyingly capitalist version of the technology possible. After the technology made it possible for people to cheaply entertain themselves, the world’s economy started slowing way down… so the company, with some backing by the government,2 set it up so it costs money to sleep.3
And, as I pointed out in the title of this post, apparently nobody has ever heard of forming a union, because the workplace environment is pretty abusive. The main character starts off in his Cube, which is roughly a dorm room with the aesthetics if a cubicle, where he pays extortionate rates in order to… not die. As a fun bonus, the Cube is owned by, and in the headquarters of, the company he works for – the same company that controls the technology that’s in everybody’s heads. It’s basically straight out of the nightmares of the people who pushed through the first worker’s rights laws.
And… I’m going to leave it there, actually. That’s a good amount of background, and anything else I can say would spoil some of the fascinating plot. I definitely recommend giving it a read, though – I’ve read a couple short stories that Levesque wrote, and I think I liked this one better than either of those, to be honest. Either way, though, go have a read.


  1. that was a terrible sentence, Grey, why are you trying to write a book review after having gotten up at 3 am, Grey 
  2. The book only ever specifies that the US government was involved, but I assume the rest of the world would’ve done something similar, otherwise the geopolitics of the situation would be different. 
  3. The relationship is a bit different, of course – after a while the company realized they could cut out the middleman and wound up replacing all the currencies with ‘Z’s, their own currency that’s just a measure of how many hours of sleep you can get. 

“All These Shiny Worlds II”

I’ve read the first anthology in this now-series, and I’m finally getting around to the second one. As I usually do with anthologies, I’ll be splitting it up so that each short story gets its own short review. And, before we launch into that, I’ll give a quick review here: it’s worth getting. Here’s your link.

Out in the Dark

Meryl Stenhouse
Oh, I’m already enjoying the focus on science fiction in this anthology. And these days, I’m also a big fan of stuff being realistically concerned about the impact of climate change – like the ever-increasing importance of naval superiority as the seas rise, and the sorts of defenses you’d need to keep a city from drowning.

Alter Ego

Russ Linton
See, I kinda get where the whole “fourth person perspective” thing was going… but I’m not sure if it worked for me. I mean, superheroes, so a plus in my book, but still, told a bit oddly.

The Silk of Yesterday’s Gown

Misha Burnett
Oh, that was darker than I was expecting, and the opening paragraph makes it pretty clear that it’s going to be fairly dark. Yikes.

A Rough Spirit

Dave Higgins
For a bit of a ghost story, I do enjoy that I had to stop to laugh at the main character’s obliviousness at one point:

“If it pleases Hiroto-sama, I am called Anew. I have some skill in massage if the noble lord has woken with any stiffness?”
He tried to keep his gaze on the small bowl and not the scrubbed skin beyond it. “A little rice and a sip of water will suffice.”
“My brother has strong fingers if-“
She’d noticed something was wrong too. He needed to distract her. He slid the tray closer. “Tell me of Hayabiro while I eat.”

Other than that, I’ve gotta say, this whole thing is “stuff happens to this guy and he overthinks it,” but it was surprisingly entertaining the whole way through.

The Apprentice Appears

Bryce Anderson

Elsie pressed the trigger, sending a taxidermied squirrel flying through the air.

Need I say more? It’s hilarious, as is everything of Anderson’s that I’ve read. On this one alone, it’s worth reading the entire book.

Merge

Simon Cantan
This is the short story version of this comic, and I think it works even better than the actual comic did. To be fair, it’s a bit more hopeful than the comic – there’s robots outside the simulation, so things are still getting done, but still.

Without a Care in the World

Richard Levesque

Then he cleared his throat and said, “I am now officially invoking the Asimov Act – uh, I mean the Sentient Technology Emancipation Act, under the conditions of which you are obligated to release this independent being from servitude immediately.”

The Lancer

David Kristoph
Okay, remember when I said Merge was dark? This was darker. Yikes.

Bodies of Evidence

Jefferson Smith

“Okay Lou, I can squeeze you in. And how will you be paying?”
“On account. Maladein Industries.”
“One moment, please.” She was gone for over a minute. “Hello, Lou? I’m not showing any accounts under that name. The closest match I have is for SKULL International Consortium of Evil, Local Rep: Sheldon Maladein.”
“Damn, I forgot about the merger. That’s us. Sorry.”

I’m a big fan of “daily life in a world with superheroes” kind of things, and this definitely delivered on that.

Borrowed Lives

I.A. Watson
The editor’s note did a good job of covering it: it’s an exploration of how a new technology would fit into everyday lives. (The actual plot contains a bit more intrigue than that, but still.)

“The law hasn’t caught up with this, Mik. Why would there be a law against something nobody knows is possible?”

The Earth Ship

Graham Storrs
Imperialism is always the same, isn’t it?

Digital Commander

J.S. Morin
Oh, I liked this. It’s a pretty possible future, and the way the world-changing advances in technology were being handled as they were being developed? Downright responsible.

The Traveller

Christopher Ruz
Oh, this is not what they should’ve ended on, my heart can’t take it.

Strictly Analog

I had a big burst of reading the other day and powered through most of this book in one sitting. Sometimes I just need a break from all the German, y’know?
Anyhow, the next book on my reading list was Strictly Analog.1 Reading this one was a bit interesting, because I was caught by the initial setup – the setting is just futuristic enough that I can see exactly how it’d come to be in the real world – but then sorta dropped off for a while. I think that was mostly due to the actual background of the story – it’s set in a version of California that’s controlled by a corporate government2 and, a few years back, declared independence from a crumbling United States. The main character lost an eye in the year of war that ensued, fighting as a troop for California in a bid to annex Las Vegas.3 Basically, it’s a bit more ‘post-apocalyptic’ than I tend to like. That’s kinda how it wound up being cut off my “to-read” list; I wound up putting it back on there by accident, since I picked up my Kindle for the first time in a few weeks and just started reading whatever was already open from last time. Surprise second chance for the book, which worked out pretty well. Back into the story:
The loss of his eye renders him incapable of using Iyz,4 the smartglass-type tech that’s gone as ubiquitous as smartphones are today. Thus the title: he’s “strictly analog” in his work, providing a non-traceable private investigation service for his clientele. I did enjoy the touch about why this is necessary – the CalCore network, containing a massive amount of data on every citizen, is searchable for a small fee. But, once you search for someone, the fact that you’ve done that is made public, and they’ll be notified. So if you’re, say, trying to find out if your spouse is cheating on you? You’d want to be a bit more discreet about that.
Where the story picks up, though, is when Lomax’s5 daughter shows up. Her boyfriend had been acting weird, and her mom is a rather useless character, a riff on the “Beverly Hills” type.
The next morning, things go to hell. The boyfriend was found dead, and Lomax’s daughter was arrested for doing it while he was out working a6 case. Problem: she didn’t do it.
And then things get fun – turns out she met the guy because he works with her stepdad, a higher up in CalCore’s secret police. Instead of a normal trial schedule, she’s due to be arraigned and sent to trial within five days. Someone up high wants the mess cleaned up.
From there, it’s a fun romp. I love some of the other characters who show up later, and despite the rough start I can happily say that I recommend this to anyone who likes a good murder mystery. Have a read.


  1. Actually, looking at my reading list, I’d marked this one as cancelled, something I’ll address later. 
  2. Referred to as “CalCore” throughout, it’s short for “California Corporation;” within the story, that happened when an energy company formed CalCore as a subsidiary that, using the awful Citizens United ruling, said the company had the right to run for Governor. And then it won. 
  3. They did apparently win that war; I’m sure Nevada wasn’t happy about it. 
  4. I think I’m spelling that right, but I don’t actually care enough to check. 
  5. The main character, Ted Lomax, whose name I’ve somehow avoided using until now. 
  6. generic “yes, your husband is cheating on you” 

All These Shiny Worlds

So, if you haven’t heard of StoryBundle, it’s definitely something you should check out. It’s a Humble Bundle type of thing, but focused on indie books, rather than games.
I honestly can’t remember how I came across it the first time, but I do remember buying the first Immerse or Die bundle, and quite enjoying it. Now, I’m subscribed to StoryBundle’s email list, and I’m starting on All These Shiny Worlds, an anthology put together based on the concept of Immerse or Die.1
As with the way I usually do anthology reviews, I’m going to give a short response to each story. I’m doing something new, this time, though, and being a more responsible reader – each short story, in this review, has the author’s name listed. Where applicable, their name is a link to reviews of other books/stories of theirs that I’ve reviewed.2

The First Man in the World

Misha Burnett
An interesting take on the idea of a generation ship – rather than an AI steward, have an actual human doing it, cloning them a new body when the old one breaks down. I’m not entirely sure if I like that idea, to be honest – sure, AI is tough, but I think the whole thing could’ve been managed with a good set of algorithms that know to wake up a human caretaker from cryo-sleep or whatever if something it’s not programmed to deal with happens.

Three Demon Gambit

J.S. Morin
Oh, this was fun. Everyone with sense knows you shouldn’t make deals with the devil, or demons in general – they’ve had millennia to become experts in all sorts of tricky little contractual loopholes. But summoning three demons and playing them against one another? Oh, that’s delightful.

Rolling the Bones

Richard Levesque
Eurgh, the editor’s note at the beginning was right about this one. Not all that dark, but creepy. That poor girl.
And it ended on the worst wordplay I’ve ever read. Bonus points for that.

All the Way

Graham Storrs
Reminds me of nothing so much as the teleportation problem – continuity of self across iterations. As a counterpoint to the arguments someone was making in this, I’ve got a relevant SMBC comic. Either way, it was a sad little story about transhumanism, I suppose? One of those post-singularity ideals, at least.

Scales Fall

Dave Higgins
This one was darker, and weirder – Egyptian magic, rather than what we see all too much of in most fantasy, and a lot of the different beliefs present in ancient Egyptian religion. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the ending – I can’t quite say if it’s a happy or sad ending.

The Ant Tower

Christopher Ruz
Oh, this one was almost something I’d like. Almost, but not quite, because of course it had to go all dark. Bah, and humbug. Nice character building, at least.

Heft

Brett Adams
Back to the fun sort of thing – a rather iffy description of CIA operations, with that characteristic disregard for the illegality of CIA operations on US soil, and then breaking into the church of Scientology of all places. What a nice little adventure, and the twist ending? Delightful. Plus, one hell of a hook on this, as it opens with

The sex snail.
Meetings with Walt always ended with the sex snail.

The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental

Bryce Anderson

She’d once overheard a priest call it “The Sacred Thingy,” which had seemed blasphemous but also accurate.

Go click on that link on Bryce’s name, because he’s a wonderful writer and I’ve loved everything I’ve read that he wrote. This was no different – a funny little story, set in a valley cut off from the rest of the world and guarded by… The Sacred Thingy. And I must say, I don’t disagree with the final decision the protagonist made – in her place, I’d have done the same thing.

Bronwen’s Dowry

Belinda Mellor
It was sweet! The competition scenes had me a little bit nervous – I’m still not entirely sure on what happened with the person who got first, what their actual prize is, but it worked out well for everyone, I suppose.

The Spider and the Darkness

Russ Linton
I think the setting this one starts in would definitely qualify it as ‘dark fantasy,’ but it does eventually get out of there. It kinda reminds me of some of the scenes in Battle Magic, Tamora Pierce’s most recent book. Secrets of the earth, and all that.

The Dowager’s Largesse

Jefferson Smith
This… might be my favorite one of the whole book, thus far. I love the setting it’s in, and I want to read more of it. I love the idea of an old Empire with old magics written into the land, somewhat forgotten or ignored by the current government. I love that the Dowager Empress put together this whole complex system of free booze and magic3 as a way of searching for something, and I love the way she checks to see how things have worked out. I really do hope she survives what she started.

Theriac

Becca Mills
There’s some Buffy vibes to this one, but gone all… church-y. Which is a bit weird, and made me almost instinctively disagree with some of the things the main character thought, but it allowed for some really interesting character growth.

The Red Flame of Death

Van Allen Plexico
Again the religious fervor, but this time quite necessary – it’s the best thing for fighting demons, after all. I like the implications in there – that one day mankind will be able to utterly defeat the forces of darkness. When it comes to fighting demons, that’s not the sort of thing you usually see; usually those stories imply that it’s like fighting entropy, and one day the darkness will win.

The Blue Breeze

Regina Richards
Oh, this is a fun setting for a story. Two suns, one of which is somehow ring-shaped? That one makes me suspect it’s some sort of science fiction setup, and the ring-sun is an orbiting mirror-station or something. The protagonist lives in the Hell Hollows, which is possibly the most vicious place possible- even the trees are carnivorous.
Aside from that maybe-space-station thing going on, there’s also a Mysterious Ancient Ruin at one point, and it’s basically hitting all my buttons for a setting I’d like to read more of.

The Rakam

Karpov Kinrade
Oh, there’s a lot going on here, and I hope there’s a full novel set in this world, because I would love to see more of it. All sorts of fun macrobiology, and there’s something weird going on with the gems. A lot of fun.

And that’s it, for this anthology. I quite enjoyed it, and it’s apparently free as a Kindle book? Oh my. Go read.


  1. The point of the anthology, per the introduction, was to be a lower opportunity-cost variant of the StoryBundle; it’s easier to read a short story than an entire novel by a new author, so giving a bunch of new authors a chance is easier in short-story format. 
  2. I went through and put in some better tags recently, and I may as well get some use out of them. I also might go back and do this same sort of thing for my other anthology reviews, but no promises, it’d take quite a while. 
  3. It’s a fun mix, really.