Category Archives: science fiction

Heart of the Storm – Book Review

At least things were back to normal now. Not the same, because nothing ever returned to how it used to be. – Heart of the Storm: Teo

It is unfortunate, but hope can only go so far. Hope can provide us the groundwork for a great future, but we eventually have to take some action to build a path forward. Otherwise, there’s always someone willing to crush a hope to fulfill their own dream.

The Moonless trilogy makes me think of hope. Of the dangers of relying on hope. And on the greatness that results from direct action. This is a book series that represents that conflict repeatedly: hope versus action. Desire versus commitment. I see it from the first pages of We Lost the Sky: “He studied the expanse for any sign of humans. And there, so far away that he had to squint to be certain, was a flicker of light.” Renn, a primary protagonist in the series, is always looking for that next bright spot on the horizon. All of these characters are—Luca, Renn, Teo, and the rest—they’re Seeking Shelter despite being in the Heart of the Storm.

Closing out this trilogy, Heart of the Storm feels especially solid and cohesive in those narrative echoes of hope and action. We Lost the Sky set the stage and gave our heroes their first chance to act to chase a dream. Seeking Shelter showed us that even the best dreams take responsive leadership in the face of a crisis. Now, Heart of the Storm is about the need for community to protect dreams for a brighter future. The hope is never enough. The dream is never enough. All the right people can be in all the right places, but they still have to act together to be effective.

After the end of the world, routines were necessary to keep yourself going. – Heart of the Storm: Luca

Picking up some time after the events of Seeking Shelter, Heart of the Storm introduces two new viewpoints, Domenico and Huan, while retaining the core cast. If you’ve read the previous books, there’s a ready rhythm in returning to Howalt’s writing that felt like taking a seat at a comfortable café. Their work always gives a sense of distinct calm; the story unfolds with quiet surety and at a steady pace. That hasn’t changed with HotS, and it was also a pleasure to rejoin this set of characters. I really enjoy Renn and Luca in particular. They feel like the heart of the entire trilogy.

In book one, Teo, Luca, and Renn helped found the new settlement of Siena. In book two, there was a plague that made the settlement seek aid outside of its walls and existing relationships. Now, book three sees the Sienans defending themselves against the long-growing shadow of Florence. The moonless world seems especially harsh in this part of the story, but not because of its physical setting. If anything, there were some real moments of beauty out on the desolate plains of a ruined Italy. But, perhaps it is the state of Earth present, but many of the fears and struggles faced by the Sienans felt especially dire and relatable.

Driven by fear, attacks from Florence threaten the lives of people that just want to live better and with more togetherness. Restless uncertainty sends Renn and Luca on a path that is more familiar rather than the one that requires a leap of faith. Teo and Arsenio face the regret of taking action while trying to find joy amidst pain and problems. These could be excerpts from the mid-pandemic world of this book’s release.

And, much like the chaos of reality, it takes a lot of steady hands and cool heads to save the day. It takes quick thinking and honed tempers to find solutions that minimize pain and death. In the previous books, I enjoyed the sense of pacifism presented by the heroes. I truly believe in an ideal of nonviolent action to achieve our goals. In We Lost the Sky, the group sought out Siena as a third option in the face of fighting over a city. For Seeking Shelter, everyone banded together to help; in the end, bartering skills and shared service won the day. Unfortunately, not all problems can be solved through talk or trade.

In a way, the settlement of Siena grows like any human in this series. First, it drew a breath. Then, it learned to walk by coordinating the efforts of its body. Finally, it faced the harshness of external pressures and had to understand itself to remain autonomous. Critically, it is only because of external pressures that the township has to redefine its limits. It is only because of outside pressures that Renn grows wistful. It’s external influences that make Teo doubt. And, it’s the external that forces Luca to finally throw all in with the Sienans.

Of course, growing up is painful, and I felt a familiar pang of regret at the end of this story. Yes, I’m a little saddened that its the last of the series. This series is a comfort read. It’s calming and reassuring to have realistic characters acting sensibly in the midst of disaster. However, the other regret is that Siena had to change in the ways it did. It’s painful to recognize the nature of conflict. It’s somber to realize that humanity is so often inhuman.

Heart of the Storm was a lovely book, and it wraps up the trilogy in a lot of great ways without any tidy neatness in the ending. It’s a living world that feels like its characters will go on living. I have an almost nostalgic fondness for this series in that it feels like it’s from another time. It provides an escape from this world, and what else can you ask for from a book?

Available from Spaceboy Books, Heart of the Storm is by Marie Howalt with a release date of 2021-09-25. Marie Howalt was born and raised in a small North European kingdom called Denmark and decided to become a writer at the age of 11 when the local library ran out of science fiction and fantasy to gobble up.

Scheduled – Flash Fiction


What a dream, those changes in the light…

There is a change in the light, but I don’t pay attention. I’m watching the news on mute while watching my phone on headphones. I’m not so much absorbing anything so much as I’m using it to prop up my mind.

Then something shakes the building, and so I jerk my eyes away from the screens. I hurry across our apartment and split the curtains to look below.

Something has landed at the intersection.

“That is a ship,” I mutter, surprised at the deadness in my own voice. “It’s a fucking ship.”

My boyfriend pulls off his headphones with a raised bushy eyebrow. He pauses the game on his phone and swallows a bite of pizza. “You okay? You look absolutely terrified.”

I glance at him. My mouth is open and I’m sure I look stoned out of my mind. I can’t even speak. I turn back to stare at the thing that’s landed on the road below our apartment. I can’t even urge myself to point. To gesture. To get his attention. I feel that I’m frozen in molasses. Everything feels slow and distant.

The ship, for it surely must be a ship, is partially translucent and crystalline. It looks like someone took one of those salt lamps, embiggened it a hundred times, then carved it into the shape of science fiction.

Marcus finally pursues his sluggish curiosity. He joins me at the window and immediately drops his phone. Then his pizza. “What. The. Shit.”

Somehow, his presence frees me of my mental prison. Slowly. I still barely nod. “Right?”

He tips his glasses so that they rest in his curly hair and digs the heels of his palms against his dark brown eyes. “Aidan. What. Do you see down there?”

I let out a bark of a laugh. “Well.” I have to swallow because suddenly my mouth feels like I’ve swallowed a desert. “I guess. It really looks like a space ship?”

“Yeah. Shit. Wow. That’s what I thought, but, hell. I wasn’t. I dunno. I didn’t trust myself.” He leans forward and takes another look. Squints. Blinking, he remembers his glasses and slips them back to his nose. His face does a slow-motion transformation into bewildering excitement. “Fucking awesome!”

My body is gradually dethawing, so I’m still in out-of-body observe-mode as the ship releases a sudden cloud of steam under one of its legs. The craft is resting on three highly-articulated limbs. They look like they could belong to an insect.

Marcus is the opposite; his reactions are going haywire with energy—a touchstone of our relationship. I, the curious one, never feel excited. He, lacking curiosity, really goes berserk when he finds something that catches his interest. Pulling on pants over his lounge-around shorts, he dances on his tiptoes. He pulls on a hoody, and then a coat. He’s slipping into socks by the time my brain finally connects actions to consequences.

“Hey, hey, hey. What are you doing?”

“Well, we gotta get down there! This is historic!”

“But, Marcus. What the hell do you think is going to happen? How do you know this is safe?” I’m feeling more nervous with each passing moment. I have an urge to start barricading our windows with plywood.

He understands my reluctance perfectly, and for that I get the stink-eye. “If you’re not going, then at least record from the window.”

“I’m not staying here alone while you go down there!”

Marcus rolls his eyes at me. “Will you make up your mind? This is either the start or the end of our future.”

I tilt my head at his statement. “Wow, how wise. So, everything we do next matters, or it doesn’t.”

His shoulders droop as he hangs his head. “Aidan.”

I grit my teeth and clench my fists. “Fine. Fine! Let’s go.” I start scrambling to find my shoes. They’re buried under some clothes maybe? We were having a long weekend and in complete lounge mode.

“Dude, dude, dude.” Marcus has his face pressed against the window. “They. Are. Coming. Out!”

My mind does a hiccup. “So, we better get this party started?”

Marcus guffaws. “Just, come on!”

We practically tumble out of the apartment while trying to use the door at the same time. I race down the stairs—still shoeless—on Marcus’ heel. My pulse is hammering. The world has decided to show the duality of time. Everything is sure as hell happening all at once and frozen in the moment. I hear a car alarm go off.

There are others in the street, but most aren’t as willing as us. Well, they aren’t as willing as Marcus. I’m just along for the ride. He leads me, holding my hand, straight to the opening spacecraft.

The opening looks like one of those hologram stickers I used to keep on a binder in school. It’s a hexagonal void that glitters and sparkles without having a surface that my mind accepts. There’s just a void in the side of the ship.

A lot of old space movies show a ramp, and some show an elevator, but this thing creates a whole damned escalator setup. It unfolds from a clump of black at the bottom of the doorway, and then there are moving stairs.

Two figures ride the escalator down to the street. They are not humanoid in any sense I understand. They look more like a combination of a camera tripod and a praying mantis—three buglike legs with probably-heads at the top.

One of them is holding a box.

Marcus stops us at the base of the escalator. He beams up at the creatures. “Hello!” He waves his arms. “Welcome to Earth!”

The two tripods twist as if facing each other. “Grbl”, says one. A subtitle—floating just under the tripod’s head—types out the word, “Shit.”

“Grbl,” says the other. Subtitle included.

The left tripod twists to face us. “Urtio la eggnz?” The subtitle offers, “You said, Earth?”

I know that tone of voice. That look. Aliens be damned, some things are universal. After all, I work for the postal service. “Where were you trying to go?”

The right tripod makes a clacking sound. All three of their legs wobble like wet noodles. “Etyu pourz ntthg ajg uiet.” The subtitle helpfully annotates, “We have a scheduled delivery for a Gregory Nassan on Truken Five.”

“Oh,” mumbles Marcus. He glances at me. “Uh.”

I grin sheepishly. “Sorry, buddy. Not on any of our maps.”

Marcus raises his hand—actually raises it. His eyes are suddenly gleaming. “Ooh, I mean, we’ll sign for it! If that’d help.”

The tripods exchange a glance. They pirouette at each other. “Vfhsdru.” The subtitle taps out, “Sure. Whatever.” Tossing us the box, both turn around without even checking to see if we catch.