CS Boyack‘s second experimental notebook is the perfect book to read just before Halloween. It has vampires, a haunted house, murderers, grave robbers — What? I missed the Halloween deadline? OK, I can work around that. Let’s try something else:
CS Boyack’s second experimental notebook is the perfect book for the coming holiday season. Read it to your grandkids as a bedtime story on Christmas Eve, or read it with that special someone while you snuggle by the fireplace. — What? No, I am not going to tell Boyack that I missed the deadline. His personal assistant is a freaking terminator robot. Just clean this up and post it on the blog, and I’ll work on a cover-up or a distraction or something.
I’d recommend reading Boyack’s first experimental notebook before the second, as one of the short stories in the second book is a sequel. (Each book is only 99 cents.) I reviewed the first experimental notebook last year. Again in this review, I’m straddling the line, one foot on giving away too much about the stories and the other foot on not saying anything interesting.
I’d place this book’s stories in the following genres: 3 science fiction, one superhero, 7 urban fantasy/horror, 1 epic fantasy, and 3 non-genre. The author disagrees, saying that there’s only one non-genre, so maybe I’m not a perfect genre-spotter.
Fever A woman talks to an alternate self, or a side of herself, or is just crazy, or is delirious with fever. I’m on the fence about the message of this story.
Documentary A documentary filmmaker tails a gang of vampires. I wonder if I would have guessed the ending to this story on my own. I already knew the ending, and the story behind the ending, from reading the author’s blog. If you lack that inside knowledge, this might be one of your favorites from the collection.
Inheritance A haunted house story. Some parts in the middle really hit me where it hurts, but I didn’t get the ending. I usually don’t get ghost stories, though, so it’s probably just me.
Magpies An accident victim encounters birds with a code of behavior. The story is silly, but I enjoyed it.
Questing A medieval war story where we find out what happens when the knights finish their quest.
Career Move A dream job at an aquarium leads to an encounter with a different kind of sea monster.
Just Another Saturday Night A couple of teenage UFO-spotters decide to break up their routine, and look for chupacabra instead.
Last Flight of the Rocketmen A rocketman takes his last flight, as the title suggests. The phrase “blue collar science fiction” pops into my mind when I think about this one.
Night Bump Radio A conspiracy/paranormal radio-show host has a paranormal encounter. I wanted a bit more conclusion from this story, or maybe for it to continue. Possible explanation: I think it’s tied into one of Boyack’s novels, Will O’ the Wisp, which I haven’t read.
Things We Do for Love A story about grave robbers.
The Parade Wave This story is so short that I really can’t say anything without spoiling it.
Jason Fogg This story is a sequel to “A Humid Business” from the first experimental notebook.
Angel You can read this story in one of the author’s blog posts. It’s very short, but I think it has some interesting elements.
Holo-Barkers Yes, advertising can get more annoying than it already is.
Practical Geology A woman takes revenge on her cheating husband. I’ve been cheated on before (NOT by my wife, these were previous relationships), so I understand the emotional impact, but this story still got too dark for me, in two different respects.
How does the second experimental notebook stack up against its predecessor? I noticed two differences:
Many sci-fi and fantasy stories rely on a “twist” — a change from what’s expected. People who read a lot of SFF short stories might go into them ready for the twist, trying to guess what it will be. In this collection, Boyack introduces the “zig-zag”. He leads you down a path where you’re expecting one twist, then suddenly takes a ninety degree turn down another path. I was totally blindsided three times. No, I’m not telling you which stories did this, you’ll have to read for yourself.
The second notebook also seemed darker than the first. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how you prefer your stories. There was a little darkness in the first notebook, in the form of murder and revenge, but I think there is more in the second notebook. There’s also another, grayish element. Two stories in the second book have heroes who don’t see a future for themselves, and decide to grab a financial payout instead of sticking strictly to the hero thing. The way America (and most of the rest of the world) treats its heroes these days, this is a natural turn for fiction to take. Let’s just hope non-fiction doesn’t take the same turn.
If you have any questions about the stories, leave a comment below. The author may drop by.