Review of Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen

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This novella is a finalist for the 2017 Nebula Award. It was published by NobleFusion Press, and is the fourth novella-length installment in the adventures of the hypnotist Conroy and his loyal buffalo dog Reggie. This review may contain spoilers.

Conroy and Reggie travel to a casino hotel on Triton with Conroy’s old friend, the gambler LeftJohn Mocker. Conroy is interested in an auction of Stonefish liqueur and Mocker is expecting to investigate allegations of cheating as an agent for the Probability Guild. The suspected cheater turns out to be Angela Colson, a young girl whose life Conroy saved a few years back, who has won $10 million from the casino. The auction turns out to be not exactly what it seems, which Conroy suspects. Can he unravel the mysteries, handle the auction and get Angela some legitimate work?

Good points: This work is strongly plotted and leans to potty humor. The characters are adequately rounded, and I’d probably be able to visualize a buffalo dog (aka buffalito) a little better if I’d read previous installments of the series. There’s a certain psychological element, as Conroy puts together clues to reveal the behind-the-scenes antics and tries to influence events.

Not so good points: This falls on the science fictions side, but there’s not really much in the way of SF here. All these events could have happened on Earth instead of Triton with just some minor adjustments in the story. Angela’s powers seem fairly magical, and the good guys were easy to separate from the bad guys right at the beginning. Because the work is so obviously plot-driven, I was expecting a definite twist ending, but it didn’t happen. All we got was Conroy’s revelation of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans and what he meant to do about them.

Three stars.

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Review of Wrap Your Body in Time by David Neil Drews

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This is a first novel, self-published in October of 2017, and runs about 750 pages. David Drews is a Jewish writer and suffers from multiple identity disorder.

Arron has esophageal cancer. He has watched his dad die slowly of chemotherapy and makes the decision to refuse it. Instead, he sets out to really live in the time he’s got left, to exercise, to see the world, to enjoy friends and family—and to deal with the ghost of his abusive father. On the journey he meets his schizophrenic grandfather, finds a potential wife. Can Aaron defeat his own demons before he reaches the end of his road?

This is a pretty sweeping novel that chronicles the bout with cancer on the one hand, while providing human interest through absorbing characters on the other. It didn’t have much of a hook, but by chapter 2 when we got the cancer diagnosis, the book had hit its stride. There’s a touch of magical realism here, including chatty animals and the various ghosts that lurk about. There’s a sort of wry humor that runs through it, and a lot of play-by-play for sports fans.

Four and a half stars.

In Memoriam: Mattie K.

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Mattie

We had a death in the family yesterday. Please spare a thought to help lift her over the Rainbow Bridge and into heaven. RIP sweet Mattie.

When Is a Dog Not a Dog?

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Master Minds coverIt’s been a long time since the first wolf made the fateful decision to hang around a human’s campfire. It’s an odd decision when you look at it. After all, humans are more likely to be prey—especially the little ones who can’t run very fast. The benefits are obvious, of course—an easy life as a watchdog and a daily dinner of leftovers without the difficulty of hunting it down. Still, you have to wonder about that kind of vision shift.

The end result, of course, is the family pet we’re all familiar with. There are also working dogs, of course, the retrievers, hunters and herding dogs that are a little bit of a tougher fit for the family home. Dogs have about the intelligence level of a human two-year-old, but in the house they’re a little bit different from a human toddler. They don’t have hands, for one thing, and they have different responses based on their canine instincts.

There are always news stories about how scientists could increase human intelligence levels. Genetic engineering would be one possibility, or maybe connecting people digitally to the Internet. But what would happen if man’s best friend could be made more intelligent this same way? What if scientists could breed a dog that could think on a human level? Meet the working dog of the future.

“The Cabin” is a science fiction story (by me) about a dog that’s not quite a dog. Look for it in Master Minds, an anthology from Third Flatiron press, edited by Julianna Rew. The anthology is currently available in either electronic or print editions. Full disclosure: This is shameless self-promotion.

Third Flatiron website: http://www.thirdflatiron.com/liveSite/pages/current-issue
Juliana Rew on Twitter: @julirew

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