Book Review: Brutal Dreams by JD Cowan

The blurb:

A Living Nightmare

After awakening in the woods, Christopher Archer finds himself trapped in a world outside of time. Fog monsters, armed gangsters, and a legendary spear, all await his arrival. But what about the fiancé who disappeared months ago?

As Archer explores this eternal midnight, he can only wonder—is this all just a dream, or is there something more hidden in the dark, watching his every move?

There is one choice. He must traverse the nightmare and learn the truth.

I read JD’s Pulp Mindset around a year ago, just after I’d begun my own self-pub groove, and I’ve been excited to get to some of his fiction ever since. Shows how big my TBR pile is don’t it?

The title of this piece really says it all - JD takes us rapidly through a nightmare dreamscape that thankfully delivers a satisfying conclusion where so many ‘real’ dreams leave us hanging.


The story starts as these dreams often do - with a man searching for something or someone. There seem to be threats ahead and behind, and an abundance of details that don’t seem to make any sense. Literally anything could be around each corner, or lurking in the shadows, because in the dream world, rules and sense break down.

I really appreciated this accurate portrayal of a dreamlike structure. JD grounds it in sensible plot with the contact with other humans and gradual revelations as to what’s actually going on. The dream logic still drives each twist and turn, and yet in the end, everything makes sense.


The story is laser-focused on our hero Archer’s arc and motivations, with little time spent on secondary characters. That is good for a novel of this length.

An unexpected ally with a tragic backstory and emotional connection to the conflict is the next biggest standout. But Christopher himself is plenty to keep us invested as he fights the madness of the strange world he’s been sucked into, and the bloodlust of the [redacted].

Craft and Critique:

JD knows exactly what he wants from this book, goes for it, and achieves it. The action is fast-paced and Brutal, and the ideas scale up beyond what’s expected (something I always enjoy).

I see lots of passages where JD’s found his chops, and others where he’s still working them up (as we all are). The main enjoyment and strength of the piece for me was in the dreamlike structure and the steady unfolding of the weirdness behind everything.

If I could have wished for anything else it would have been more intrigue in the third quarter of the story and less action, but all in all, this is a fun, pulpy horror novel of surprisingly cosmic proportions.

Get your copy today!

Book Review: Seeds of Calamity by Joseph Dooley


The blurb:

Calamity rides on the back of an asteroid...

In 2216, a natural disaster on Mars destroys a remote steelworker settlement, killing thousands.

Four asteroid miners who’ve fallen on hard times go to work for a man they don’t trust.

A Customs agent uncovers a human trafficking ring, but the real crime is more terrible than she could have imagined.

Felton wrangles asteroids for a living. With his brother Levi and shipmates Blake and Castor, he scours the Asteroid Belt for valuable minerals on a space cruiser dubbed the Marillion.

When the Marillion crew lose financial backing, they’re left to fend for themselves in the dog-eat-dog depths of space. They enter an uneasy partnership with the smuggler Keegan, who’s delivering sensitive cargo for a secretive client.

Joined by Customs agent Greta Holtz, they descend on Mars, where men’s unchecked ambition violently collides with the power of an alien lifeform. Tossed about by forces far greater than himself, it’s all Felton can do to survive, let alone avert a calamity that threatens everything he holds dear...


Joseph Dooley has crafted a smart, hard sci-fi space thriller that put me constantly in mind of a film adaptation. The twists are constant, predictability is low, and the suspense drives the plot harder than an asteroid miner’s drill.


I had the distinct sense of being trapped in a tin can spaceship with our heroes, only loosely aware of events outside the long, tense journey toward supposed safety. This suspense and feeling of being cut off came in large part from the plot being mostly unpredictable, especially if you forgot parts of the synopsis while digging into the book…

It’s easy to believe that Felton and crew will make it to each of their momentary goals, and a true surprise when obstacles and villains crop up to hinder them.

It was also really satisfying to read a competent bit of hard SF after having been immersed in lots of fantasy and other genres for quite a while.


Every member of the crew, and most of our side characters, are unique and memorable, with clear voices and understandable motives. It’s almost too easy to root for Felton, with his adventurer’s heart and blatant disregard for authority, even that of his own brother. Even when his decisions land him and others in trouble, we can’t help but cheer for him to get a win and keep being himself.

The villains are believably villainous, their deeds touching on issues pertinent to our current society. 

The only character that left me wanting was Regan, the young steelworker girl featured in the story’s prologue. It wasn’t because she was poorly done - quite the contrary - but instead because of our attachment and investment in her safety after discovering her fate.

Because of the tight Felton-POV we weren’t able to spend as much ‘screen time’ with the pitiable orphan girl as I’d have liked. But I have a penchant for pitiable orphans so…

In any case that’s a function of the plot and structure, and had to be as it was.


The prose is solid and visceral, with a clear understanding of the hard sci-fi elements that exceeds my own. I like that in fiction because I can learn and experience new things while also having fun.

This is also one of the better-edited indie books I’ve read, from development and structure down to individual lines.

If I could ask for anything more from this author, it would be a little more shades of purple prose - tastefully done of course - here and there. It’s not dry by any means, but I had the sense that he could pull off more ‘beauty’ and would like to see it. Naturally this is just a notion of my personal taste, so your mileage may vary.


A few of my comments above could also fall under this heading, which as always is based on my own tastes and current experience. 

I beat my brain with a spanner to find something else to say in this vein… but nothing comes.

This is a solid book with constant suspense and wonderful payoffs, nestled in the gritty hull of a spaceship just barely holding off the cold death of space. Read it!

The Mythos Project, or Conservative Retellings

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