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When Nothing Stares Back – Book Review

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published February 2nd 2020
A book worth reading
In my recent attempts to give independently published books and authors the publicity I feel they deserve, and to support as many of my fellow writers as I can, I have been reading more and more works by self-published authors and small traditional presses. Unfortunately, my initial impression of self-publication was not good. And, I have to say, I have found that too many self-published works are just… well… there is a reason why many of them have been turned down by traditional publishers. And that means when I find these independent books that I like, I really feel I should proclaim that to the world. Reward those who do a good job (in my opinion).

And so we comes to When Nothing Stares Back by Marcus Vance (2019).
marcus vance, when nothing stares back, book, horror, science fiction, anthology


This is a collection of short stories, drabbles, flash fiction and other associated short works. Fifty of them! That's good because, as I've said when I've reviewed books of drabbles in the past here, if you don't like something, it's over in a very, very short time.

So it is with this book. The stories are all of a speculative fiction bent, which I enjoy, as regular readers would no doubt be aware of, and, to be honest, very few did not strike something with me. But, so I don't go overboard here, I'm going to mention just ten of the works… which was hard enough to whittle down to. But this should give you a taste of what this book is about and like, and then you can go off and buy it and see for yourself!

Now, some of the really short works don't have titles, so I'll give opening words for those instead.

"You could only learn so much…" Short, sharp, shiny and the last line made me spit my drink out. Yes, I did a real spit-take at the ending of this aliens watching earth tale.

"Mother insister we bring the old Sakura tree…" Another short one. But to demonstrate that this is not a one trick pony, this was incredibly sad and depressing and it made me take pause. It is amazing how much some writers can bring out in so few words.

'Everynaut' This short story about a space drifter was going along at a nice philosophical pace, and then the ending came and I did not see it coming! That is not like me! Really well written, lulling the reader into a false sense of knowing what is happening, and then – bang! – it is something different. Nicely done.

'Terror Of The Lost Tribe' This story starts as a stone age styled fantasy, with a nice set up leading to a greater and greater sense of danger. And then the ending section is just depressing and disturbing… and all too probably real.

"One thing they don't tell you…" Another short, not so much a story as a train of thought. Bizarre… and amusing in a rather dark sort of a way.

'Unwanted' This short story was one I could not pick where it was headed at all, and its ending left me feeling strangely sad, despite the fact the character had managed an escape. Quite well written.

""You Gene?"/ I nod." My favourite in the book. A man is threatened because he killed some-one. But the last words spoken… masterful. And it is told in almost complete dialogue. This, again, is a different style, and it is so well done.

'Laughter In The Forest' Eerie story of a ritual gone wrong… or did it? The descriptions grew more intense as the story went on until the final denouement and the end of it all. Or was it? Another really well written story, this one.

"The Drinker sat across…" Back to the flash fiction with this one, which is an excellent example of taking a simple adage and turning it into something glorious.

""So, get this!..." A story of heroism and bravery and everything James Bond was about. But the ending… so perfect.

Ten of the best. I could have done more, bit this is twenty percent of the works.

Now, as is the case in nearly every self-published book I have read, it is not perfect. There are a number of formatting issues involving paragraphing in the Kindle version at least, and a few other editing issues. But the standard of the stories does help it rise above such things.

Anyway, this is a fine book that you can find on Amazon (as I said, I got it for Kindle). A collection of tales that are different and well worth reading. It is not a long read, but it is a fun read.

I got the chance to ask Marcus a few questions:
Where do the ideas come from in your stories?

Many of the shorter stories came from the #VSS365 prompt from Twitter. For the longer ones, some I wanted to emulate other authors such as Lovecraft and O. Henry, and others came from some idea that I wanted to pursue.

How long did it take you to write the collection?

One of the stories was from 2016, but I didn't have a collection in mind then. The Twitter ones came from about a year of doing #VSS365 every day, and I picked the best ones. I also took a month or two to write a handful of shorter pieces specifically for the collection.

Where do you think your writing will be going from here?

I'm currently moving slightly beyond flash fiction, and focusing on stories around one thousand words--the length of Everynaut. I've sold shorter pieces to professional markets, but selling a 1k word story to a pro magazine like Fantasy & Science Fiction would qualify me for membership with the SFWA (Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America). That's my current goal.

Recommended.

marcus vance, author, writer, book


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