Space Ships & Other Trips by Raven Oak

Space Ships & Other Trips by Raven Oak
Publisher: Grey Sun Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Part II of this debut collection by multi-award-winning author and artist Raven Oak brings together speculative fiction stories from the past ten years of her career, ranging from space adventures with a dash of mystery and other near-future tales to post-apocalyptic stories and deep dives into the mind.

You’ll find closed-ship mysteries, foul-acting apps, talking cats, retail hell, and hacked programs in these ELEVEN speculative fiction pieces. Space Ships & Other Trips contains FIVE never-before seen stories for your enjoyment, including a tie-in story from Jeff Sturgeon’s The Last Cities of Earth universe.

STORIES INCLUDED: The Loss of Luna, Hungry, Mouth, Only a Bird, Q-Be, Hands, Ol’ St. Nick, Drip, Level Up, Scout’s Honor, and D.E.A.T.H.

How much hope do you have for the future?

“Only a Bird” explored what happened after some students found an injured bird outside of their classroom. The empathy they had for that creature was beautiful. I especially enjoyed their conversations that compared it to the robotic birds that had just begun to be released into the wild. This was a sweet and gentle story that could fit into so many different genres.

There were several stories in this collection that I thought would have been better with more development. “Drip” was one of them. As intrigued as I was by the protagonist’s struggle with insomnia, I had a lot of unanswered questions about the world they lived in. For example, I would have liked to know what was going on with all of the out-of-control fires they were worrying about as they tried to go to sleep. Was this an unusual portion of daily life in their world or was it something frightening that ordinary people had no choice but to deal with regularly? These sorts of questions about the world building kept popping up for me and influenced the rating I ended up choosing.

To be perfectly honest with all of you, eating out of a dumpster isn’t something I ever expect to read about in the science fiction genre. The fact that “Level Up” began with a scene about the main character doing this intrigued me, especially once she was interrupted a moment later just as she was about to enjoy an English muffin. There are so many plot twists I wish I could dive into, but this is one of those tales that works best for readers who know as little as possible about what is to come. What I can say is that it was creative and made me want more.

This is the second anthology in a series that does not need to be read in order. Just like with Dragon Springs & Other Things, be sure to read the author’s notes to learn about where her ideas came from!

Space Ships & Other Trips was full of surprises.

Dragon Springs & Other Things by Raven Oak

Dragon Springs & Other Things by Raven Oak
Publisher: Grey Sun Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This debut collection by multi-award-winning author and artist Raven Oak brings together fantastical stories from the past ten years of her career, ranging from gothic and urban fantasy to post-apocalyptic and steampunk tales.

You’ll find coffee-drinking ghosts, ever-changing faces, elemental spirits who both protect and harm, assassins, magical pockets, and snarky creatures in these ELEVEN fanciful fictions. Dragon Springs & Other Things contains SIX never-before seen stories for your enjoyment, including two stories featuring fan favorite character, Ida, from Oak’s Boahim Trilogy.

STORIES INCLUDED: Mirror Me, Water the Fire, Alive, Learning to Fly, The Drive to Work, The Ringers, Cookie Man, Amaskan, Peace Be With You, Friend, The Snark, and Dragon Springs & Other Things.

Magic is everywhere.

A young couple wondered why they kept having kitchen, bathroom, and pipe leaks in “Water the Fire.” Were the water demons attacking them? I loved the clever progression of this storyline, especially once the main characters began to notice more clues about what was going on in their home. It surprised me more than once, and I couldn’t wait to find out how they might fix their wet and sometimes very stinky problem.

While I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, I thought a few of them would have been better with a bit more development. “The Snark” was one of them. It followed the life of an snarky and unrepentant Internet troll named Elizabeta who would never believe you if you told her what was about to happen to her. The premise was fantastic, but the plot was wrapped up so quickly that I never found time to settle in and anticipate her reaction to her big surprise.

The town of Dekwood was enveloped in a thick, eerie silence in “The Ringers.” I enjoyed getting to know Elise and her family as they moved to this area without realizing that magic was forbidden there. The narrator gave me exactly the right amount of information for me to know when these characters were in trouble and what might happen to them if they couldn’t find a way to clear their debts and get away before anyone realized that Elise had special abilities. Every new plot twist only pulled me further into her world. I wish I could say more without giving away spoilers, but this is something that works best for readers who only know a little about it when they begin.

Be sure to read the author’s notes about where their ideas came from at the end of each tale. I love it when writers take the time to do this, and all of these explanations were fabulous.

Dragon Springs & Other Things makes me eager to read more from Ms. Oak.

Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays

Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays by Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak, & G. Clemans
Publisher: Grey Sun Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Holiday, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (298 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What do you get when you mix mystery and speculative fiction, then toss in the holidays for good measure? A mobster Santa, genetic hanky-panky, Victorian villages, time-travelling detectives, Krampus, eerie bell spirits, and more–this collection of short cross-genre fiction is the perfect counterpoint to traditional holiday reading!

This collection stars four authors, each with their own distinct style. National bestselling author Maia Chance, who is famous for her cozy mysteries, dazzles with humor and folklore. IPPY award-winning science fiction author Janine A. Southard beguiles with unexpected time-travel science. Science fiction & fantasy bestseller Raven Oak offers a look into the gothic past. And for a whole new perspective, debut fiction author and art expert G. Clemans dives into the intersections of creativity and mystery.
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Joy to the Worlds brings together eight short works that explore mysteries across time and space. Ranging from dark dystopian worlds to comedic retro-futures, four diverse writers find new ways to combine these disparate worlds into something everyone will enjoy.

There are many mysteries in the Christmas season if you know where to look.

“Wild Hunt” caught my attention immediately. The narrator, Tyson, is the newest member of his supernatural hunting team. If he succeeds in figuring out how an innocent human was murdered, he’ll be promoted. Failure? That isn’t an option. The world building was so intricate that I briefly wondered if this was a prequel to a book. The society that Tyson belongs to was simply that well described. I also enjoyed seeing how this character attempted to solve the case. He had a methodical style of thinking that worked nicely for a murder mystery, especially once he began talking to the potential witnesses and suspects in the case.

In “The Ringers,” a girl named Elise moves to a strange, new town with her parents where both magic and curiosity are strictly forbidden. Elise needs to figure out why the citizens of this community are so quiet and sad before it’s too late. I had a hard time getting into this story at first because how slowly the plot moved in the beginning. Most of the characters were introduced right away, so it took me a while to figure out how everyone was connected as well. It would have been helpful to start in a less busy point so that I could have had more opportunities to piece everything together. The premise itself was creepy and interesting, though, and I soon came to enjoy it. A few of the other stories in this collection had similar pacing problems. I really enjoyed all of their premises. I simply needed more time to figure out what was going on in the first few scenes because their beginnings included so much information about what was happening in them.

One of the things I liked the most about “Odysseus Flax & the Krampus” was how many times it surprised me. This tale was about a man named Odysseus who finds himself temporarily stranded in a small town until the next train arrives. While he’s visiting, he overhears some local people discussing a local legend about Krampus whisking away the naughtiest children as a punishment for their bad deeds. It’s difficult to say anything else about the plot without giving away spoilers because the narrator does so many creative things with it. I was especially impressed with how she tied everything together. The twists were unexpected, but they also worked really well with what I’d already learned about the characters who were involved in them. This was especially true in the ending. I definitely didn’t see it coming ahead of time, but I could also completely understand why the author wrote it that way. It was really well done!

Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays was a fascinating mixture of genres. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries that are heavily influence by science fiction.

Class-M Exile by Raven Oak

Class-M Exile by Raven Oak
Publisher: Grey Sun Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (102 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe


Class-M planet in the middle of no-where. Dust, dust, and more dust. Unless ya circled ‘round to the more habitable region, you’d be stuck without a ship to anywhere. ‘Round the corner though, you could find everything from ship parts and dried food packs, to roast dog and the rare bi-cycle. Hell, you could even buy yerself a gen-u-ine religion if you were so inclined.
The ultimate tourist trap. And here I’d taken the bait.

When Eerl stepped off The Marzipan, he was one of a billion tourists on Bay-zar. He expected to shop for rare artifacts from war-ravaged Earth and maybe study at the grand library, but not even his background in Human Studies from the University of Tersia could prepare him for what came next:
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A military beefcake with a grudge, a wartime conspiracy, a stolen ship, a galaxy full of prejudice, and at the center of it all, a young human named Mel in search of the truth.

Her search for her past and his quest for knowledge take them across the stars as they uncover the darkness and fear in us all.

How far would you go to protect a stranger?

Mel’s backstory was a smart addition to this tale. I wasn’t expecting to learn as much about her as I did, but all of her anecdotes about the past rounded out her personality nicely. Her appearance was described vividly. It was nice to have such a clear image of what she looked like, especially once the plot started moving quickly and I wasn’t sure what was in store for her.

The aliens in this story sounded fascinating. I would have really liked to read descriptions of what kinds of species they were and what they looked like. While I appreciated knowing the names of their planets and the few details about them that were shared, that information on its own wasn’t enough for me to form a picture in my mind of what it would actually be like to meet one of them. Not having those details made it hard to immerse myself in what was happening.

Some of the best scenes in this book involved short conversations between Eerl and Mel about human culture and history. These talks provided glimpses into corners of their minds that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across. I looked forward to every single one of them due to his unique take on subjects that I think of as completely ordinary. While I don’t know if Ms. Oak is planning to write a sequel, I hope she’ll consider the possibility of it. It would be entertaining to see what Eerl does next.

Class-M Exile is a good choice for anyone who likes science fiction set in the distant future.