Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


A Breath of Aphrodite
by Rebecca Birch

An Undiplomatic Incident
by Paul R. Hardy

Deus Ex Parasitus
by Josh Pearce

Dust to Dust
by Richard Wren

Space Horses
by Diane Ryan

Mercy Park
by Patrick Wiley

Patient, Creature
by Andrew Muff

by Timothy J. Gawne

Shorter Stories

Turn Off, Tune Out and Reboot
by J.R. Hampton

Sky Widows
by Matthew F. Amati

Crottled Greeps
by John Teehan


This is the Way the World Ends
by Carol Kean

A Reason for Returning to the Moon
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

A Sentient Lovely as a Tree

TREES STAND AROUND LIKE SENTINELS, taking it all in but never telling us what they know—until “TREEvolution” by Tara Campbell, in which trees not only learn to talk to us, they decide they may be better off without us. With mystical Native Americans, tree-loving scientists, corporate intrigue, corruption, and a government that wants an undetectable, untraceable way of listening in on people, this novel is a wee bit silly but most of all, it’s a lot of fun.

The premise is fantastical. You may laugh at the idea of plants being sentient, much less becoming militant, but check out the list of resources at the end of the book. “The Sound of Thirsty Trees,” an April 2013 NPR report, inspired Campbell. treevolution“After hearing that we could listen in on trees and hear what was going on with them before we saw any visible indications of trouble,” she writes, “I was hooked on the idea of finding out what else trees might be trying to tell us.”

Her list of resources is respectable and thought-provoking: “Do Plants Think?” (Scientific American, June 2912); “How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other” (, December 2013); “Trees Call for Help—And Now Scientists Can Understand” (National Geographic, April 2013). And that’s just a start.

“TreeVolution” pits genetically altered trees against their creators in a story that is at times violent, terrifying, and dark, but also breathtaking, awesome, and gleeful. Poachers are old news, but reports of trees killing lumberjacks are sensational.

Charlie Meninick, hired to protect his tribe’s old-growth trees from timber poachers, cannot explain to troopers what he sees in the woods. He’s not the only person with a crazy story. Trees start doing other unthinkable things to humans, or even to the occasional dog leaving its scent.

Two young interns at the governor’s office in Olympia, Washington, are assigned the task of investigating news reports that sound like urban legends. Tamia Bennet is soon fired from the job, but she continues to work behind the scenes on a mission to find out how the trees have been manipulated and who is responsible.

Tamia’s research is as fascinating to the reader as it is to her. Like Tamia, I “had no idea plants were so dynamic. Some could send out a beacon, like a Bat signal, summoning wasps to attack the caterpillars chewing on their leaves. Trees had even been shown to exchange nutrients through their roots, trading sugars back and forth according to the season.” We’ve all heard of the Venus flytrap, if anyone should doubt plants can be homicidal. How many of us have heard of trees that communicate through an underground network of mycorrhizal fungi? A university lab in France “developed the ability to listen in on the xylem, or circulatory system, of trees,” Tamia learns. They hear a popping sound when trees don’t get enough water.

It’s fun to imagine that trees have “always been sentient, watching and listening to us, possibly for centuries, and now we’ve finally given them a means of interaction that we can comprehend,” as Dr. Block theorizes.

But, with the means they’ve been given, the trees are rapidly mutating. “They’re watching and listening, and their capabilities are changing much more rapidly than I thought possible,” Dr. Block tells Tamia. “Their language abilities are growing more sophisticated, and now they’ve learned to physically defend themselves.”

The trees actually find a way to start fires. That may sound like a kamikaze move, but self-sacrifice in times of war is the price of victory.

“I can’t say which frightens me more,” Dr. Nystrom says, “the idea that ArborTech designed this, or the thought that it’s completely out of their control.”

Charlie, Tamia, the scientists, a tree-climbing grandson, and a few mystical Natives keep the reader engaged. Scenes where the trees swoop and bend provide so much visual grandeur, I can put up with a some awkward (dare I say cringe-worthy?) dialogue. E.g., “Trees remember,” a maple tells Tamia via an electronic translator. “Before speak, before move, trees hear. But we not ... understand then. Now we wake. Now we speak, move, hear, remember ... think.” (Ellipses not mine.) At least the trees have an excuse for what book critics flag as “wooden” dialogue.

Tamia and Charlie face the question of which threat is greatest: the newly awakening trees who could decide people aren’t necessary at all, or the government agency that had ArborTech engineer these trees in the first place.

Genetic engineering always intrigues me, along with the scary question of how many ways a science experiment can go wrong. I’d like to be spared the all-too-familiar premise of corporate and government corruption, whistle blowers being killed, technology being abused, people, plants, and animals being exploited, but such is the human condition. And such is the prerogative of an author. “With a B.A. in English and an M.A. in German,” her author page reports, “Tara Campbell has a demonstrated aversion to money and power.”

In all, this debut novel delivers the sensawunda that makes science fiction a genre I’ll always love. If there are plot holes or weak spots, a rollicking good story can carry us over them without too bumpy a ride. (“TREEvolution,” Tara Campbell, Lillicat Publishers) 4 stars—Carol Kean


Going Rogue

THE FIRST SHOWING OF “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was on a Thursday night at seven p.m. When I arrived at the movie theater to buy my tickets (two hours early because I was concerned it might sell out) I found out that the tickets had already been sold out for days. Even though the temperature was twenty degrees (with wind chill making it even colder), there was a crowd of people milling around in front of the theater, some in Stormtrooper uniforms and other Star Wars regalia. It was as much of a happening at a movie theater as I’ve seen. The only other showing that night was in 3D. I’m not a fan of 3D, but that was my only option, so I bought a 3D ticket.

When I see a Star Wars film, I don’t expect great character development or even a good plot. I was glad that “Rogue One” was billed as a “standalone” film in regards to the other Star Wars films. Although I have seen them all, I have only a cursory recollection of what happened in them. What I do expect to see when I go to a Star Wars film is great visuals—eyeball-pleasing spectacles of gorgeous alien worlds, dramatic space warfare, and crowded bazaars full of extraterrestrials. I am happy to report that “Rogue One” delivers on that score. I never thought I would ever say this, but I am glad I bought a 3D ticket. The 3D effects were tastefully done, not overpowering or headache-inducing. It is the first time I’ve ever seen a 3D film where the 3D added to the viewing experience.

“Rogue One” is a combination war movie and heist film, which are two genres that I particularly enjoy. Because of this I was already inclined to like this movie. The great thing about seeing a movie in a theater instead of at home is that you can gauge how much the rest of the audience liked the movie, and I heard one person loudly exclaim when leaving the theater that it was better than “The Force Awakens.” I would have to heartily agree with that opinion. Altogether the film is a success.

Some of the credit for this success has to go to Felicity Jones, who plays the main protagonist Jyn Erso. She has just the right amount of simmering earnest intensity to carry the movie forward. There is a perfunctory scene of her early childhood at the beginning of the movie, where her mother is killed and her father starwarsis abducted by the Imperial Military to work on the Death Star. Jyn Erso’s father is portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen is one of my favorites amongst the current crop of top actors, and he’s a brilliant casting choice. His presence gives the movie a gravitas, a seriousness that has been lacking in some of the previous Star Wars films.

Theatergoers will breathe a sigh of relief to learn that there is no Jar Jar Binks in this film, and ’droid hijinks are thankfully kept to a minimum. Not a Wookie to be seen! The resulting treatment is the reason why the film works so well. It’s possible that it was a conscious decision by director Gareth Edwards to make the movie dark and serious. Forest Whitaker is also very good as Saw Gerrera, the leader of a splinter group of rebels. One of the stranger aspects of “Rogue One” (some might use the word “creepier”) is that an actor who died more than twenty years ago has a supporting role. That would be Peter Cushing, who reprises his role as Grand Moff Tarkin, one of the major bad guys. I had been alerted to the fact that Grand Moff Tarkin was a CGI creation, and so I watched him carefully. He seemed a tiny bit off, but I wonder if I hadn’t already been aware that Grand Moff Tarkin was a CGI creation would I have even noticed? The animation was well done, and raises questions concerning the future of acting. Do ghost actors get paid union rates? What sort of contract do they get?

The movie rushes madly to get to the climactic heist/battle scene on the planet Scarif, where the plucky band of rebels led by Jyn Erso intend to steal the schematics for the Death Star. This combination of heist and battle seems to take up most of the movie. The space battle scenes are jaw-dropping awesome. Although I would have liked to have seen more of the background to the battle, if you have watched all the other Star Wars films you don’t need to have this filled in; that’s likely why the screenwriters felt that they could dispense with it. There are also gigantic coincidences, like why does the captured Imperial pilot wind up on the planet Jedha at the same moment Jyn Erso and her pals are there? Any such contrivances can be conveniently waved away by invoking The Force, the same Force that enables blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) to dispatch a dozen Storm Troopers with nothing more than a bo staff.

Star Wars fans will be delighted with this movie. It was a wise choice to make this a “standalone” film, outside of the rest of the canon. By focusing on one small aspect of the wider Empire/Republic war, the immense franchise scales down to a human level. “Rogue One” brings a welcome seriousness to Star Wars, and it will undoubtedly breathe new life into a franchise that was beginning to look overworked and moribund. (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” directed by Gareth Edwards, Lucasfilm) 4 stars—Joshua Berlow


Laying Blame

NEARLY EVERYTHING THAT’S GONE WRONG in the past millennium can be tracked down to a single source, from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to The Black Plague, and both World Wars, and things that didn’t go all that badly, like the invention of Dominos (the game, not the pizza chain), the colossal statues of Easter Island, and L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. No, we can’t blame Satan. The failure of humans to shape up or ship out is the failure of two aliens who walked as missionaries among us. It’s all documented in “The Ballad of Elva and Chester: Or, Mostly Their Fault” by Adrian Archangelo.

If that angelic name sounds suspect, you guessed right. The “New York Times and international bestselling author” who wrote this dubious history of the world insists on remaining anonymous. Asked why he would need to protect himself from characters in a novel, Archangelo “snorted a bitter laugh,” according to his Amazon author page, and said, “Well sure, the publishers made me call it a novel. That’s today’s media for you ...”

This historical account, pitched as a “quirky, funny sci-fi romp” with shades of Tom Robbins, Ray Bradbury, and Douglas Adams, is existential and depressing and yet, somehow, light-hearted. People suffer and die, in scene after scene, but my usual fists of rage are unmoving. The horrible things that happen come straight from real life, though you may doubt the part where the two protagonists, senselessly murdered by the humans they’re trying to save, get resurrected a short time later and sent to a new time and place, where they will once again be senselessly murdered and resurrected, over and over again. (Yes. I started skimming, after so many chapters in a row of this.)

The fate of the human race depends on these alien missionaries. Their angry bosses are wise beings who have been around far longer than we have. This entity rightly fears the expansion of humans beyond the little blue planet we’re hell bent on destroying without any help from above.

These alien judges have remote sensors parked behind Earth’s moon. “The mere presence of the human race upon the whole spectrum of living consciousness takes up a lot of bandwidth among the stars,” they lament. They already sent an asteroid to wipe out the dinosaurs, so you know they mean it when they threaten to deflect another one into Earth’s path to take down those pesky humans.

Unhindered by physical bodies, the wise ones exist as individual clouds of intelligent energy. They are quick and nimble, these deep-space travelers. They “venture across light years of physical distance, easy as a full body yawn.”

How wise is an entity that calls itself the Judgment Crew?

The Judgment Crew come up with “meat suits” (human-looking bodies) for Elva and Chester, and a galaxy-class spaceship which has good odds of surviving a wormhole drive failure. Dispatched to Earth in the year 1100, Elva and Chester are tasked with cleaning up after the first two idiots who failed in their mission of helping humanity develop more empathy and compassion. If ever humans evolve into nicer beings, they’ll be allowed to help solve The Galactic Problem, whatever that is.

Chester and Elva pass themselves off as humans in their “meat suits,” but they don’t need to eat or excrete or suffer the assorted downsides of hballadaving a flesh-and-blood body. Only one substance poses any temptation or danger to them. If the Home Race is concerned about keeping their mission secret, Chester wonders, why would they allow their meat suits to be so affected by chocolate?

The two alien saviors may appear to be man and woman, but outside of the “meat suits” (an overused term that was only marginally funny the first time), they are genderless. Chester and Elva notice how preoccupied people are with sex. It would seem sex is the only thing that makes life worth living. Could sex be good enough to keep the Judgment Crew from annihilating humanity?

In the first chapter, the angry bosses, aka the Judgment Crew, show up on Earth to chastise Chester and Elva for failing to save humanity. They’ve had a thousand years! The hapless duo make excuses for themselves, demand an appeal, and argue on behalf of the hopeless humans.

“It wasn’t my fault” is my own favorite motto, especially when there’s any truth to it. Seeing it in the title is one reason I decided to read the book (via an ARC from NetGalley).

Chester and Elva try to explain their assorted mishaps, but the Judgement Crew always concludes that they got careless: “You ignored the possibility of unforeseen ricochets. You ignored the very awareness of cause and effect that you are here to promote.”

They try to incriminate chocolate.

They try to shake the blame for the Baby Boomers.

“Because of you,” the Judgment Crew tell Elva and Chester, “the most spoiled generation in history decided they had not been spoiled enough, and so they needed to spoil their children worse and begin giving them trophies for showing up.” This, to me, was one of the highlights of the book.

Chester is gallant, overly confident and eager to come to the rescue of people who never deserve his help. He never learns. He never gives up. Elva is kind and trusting, but more cautious than Chester. Together they face Lincoln’s assassin, Mrs. O’Leary and her cow, J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla. Every scene reminds me of Forrest Gump’s knack for showing up in pivotal places, but with worse results. Elva and Chester meet Hitler, Al Capone, and Amelia Earhart. They encounter the Hindenburg, the cover-up at Roswell, and other landmark events and historical personages. The Judgment Crew blames them for the stock market crash of 1929 and the American Dust Bowl.

Elva and Chester learn that “a major part of their duties on the planet Earth lay in accepting the fact that for an awful lot of the time, you are not going to get what you want or need. Instead, you will have to settle for an approximation, and it will be of dubious quality.”

In short, they learn that “sometimes you just have to go with whatever you’ve got.”

I learned that too many publishers use the term science fiction loosely, and that hardly anyone who is said to be as funny as Douglas Adams ever is.

I never did figure out what the Galactic Problem is, but maybe that’s my own fault. (“The Ballad of Elva and Chester: Or, Mostly Their Fault,” Adrian Archangelo, WildBlue Press) 3 stars—Carol Kean