Story Time Reviews: Entanglement

Image of star-studded space with a red, whirling cloud whose center is a black hole.

Story Time Reviews is a blog series that offers reviews of stories both read and read aloud. Today’s Story Time, Reviews Entanglement. Eris (Ruari McDonnell) is the author of Entanglement ©2017. Astra (Jordan Scherer) is the narrator. The story first aired on the Bad Astra podcast on Spotify, January 28, 2021. (Also available on Apple, and many other platforms.) 

It first appeared on the Bad Astra YouTube channel on February 5, 2021. It is 24:12 minutes long.

The Story

This short story starts with an absolutely fascinating “what if” question in the narrator’s first line. 

“Falling into a black hole is always a violent death, but the pain levels vary.”

The narrator discusses the pain levels possible depending upon the size of the black hole and how fast you fall victim to spagettification. Spagettification is a word coined by Stephen Hawking as a joke, but now is an official term, she says. She tells us that in 2384, a witness saw a person sucked into a black hole. And gives us basic information about black holes, particularly entangled black holes.

Then the narrator tells us she “is essentially, a disembodied consciousness at the mercy of her new home, in an entangled set of black holes.” 

The Story Develops

We learn our narrator was an astrobiologist searching for intelligent life outside of humanity with her co-worker/employees. One night she gets talked into taking a night off to a karaoke bar with her co-workers. After a few too many drinks, a singularly beautiful woman walks in and the astrobiologist is smitten. She slurs through a pickup line which the beauty says was “really, really bad.” Still, there aren’t many people to talk to, so they talk. Just as the astrobiologist believes she is going to be invited to the young woman’s room, she blacks out. When she wakes, she thinks the pain she feels is from a hangover.

I’m hooked!

I won’t tell you anymore about the story so as not to spoil your enjoyment should you listen to it. There’s nothing ground breaking about the plot. But I will tell you it kept my attention all the way through, even when “editor-me” noticed an anachronism or two. 

The Author

Ruari McDonnell is a self-described “narcissist” who does not have a website. I found this photograph and a short bio on LinkedIn.

“I’m a writer with an absurdist sense of humor steeped in existential dread, but in the best way. My background in theater and film has resulted in an intimate understanding of production and engaging script development. While my parents ruined my dreams of being an astronaut, I’ve channeled my passion for STEM into my science communication career path and into the foundation of Bad Astra. I graduated DePaul University summa cum laude with a BA in English, so I am certifiably literate. I’m happy to chat about writing, content development, and baking. Let me tell your story.”

The Voice Talent

Photo of a young woman with long auburnish hair, Jordan Scherer, wearing a bright blue shirt and has a necklace with a large amber-looking stone.

Jordan Scherer (she/her) has an engaging voice with a nice range of tones and inflections. It’s the type of voice talent that allows you to immerse yourself in the story.

On ACX Ms. Scherer describes herself as “just a queer engineer living the dream in Chicago and moonlighting as a voice actress.” (Her photo is also from LinkedIn.)

“Bad Astra is a science comedy YouTube series which makes astronomy, physics, more accessible for adults through comedy, simple explanations, and more costume changes than math.”

“As Astra, the host, I research interesting scientific topics, co-write scripts with my business partner, film and perform those scripts, and edit videos for a YouTube audience. I also interview scientists about their research, with a focus on promoting representation of women and BIPOC scientists.”

from LinkedIn

On ACX her credits include: Women of Resistance (Audiobook-Poetry), The Revolution Bell (In Production; Audiobook-Poetry), Falling Gracefully (Audiobook-Romance), Amelia Earhart and Her Life (Audiobook-Kids), The Dancer series (Audiobook-Fantasy), Jolly Jokes for Kids series, books 1-10 (Audiobook-Kids), Billy Bear Runs Away (Audiobook-Kids), The German Girl (Audiobook-Kids), Magic and Fantasy (Audiobook-Kids), BCC (Audiobook-Romance), and The Kitten Who Didn’t Know How to Meow (Audiobook-Kids).

My Opinion

I loved this story. The point of view character’s voice is authentic, conversational, and relatable. She wonders if one of her coworker’s “goal in life was to fulfill all the classic space nerd stereotypes.” She finds fault in the karaoke bar’s name while admitting she understands that the bar’s name is a play on words and she doesn’t like bars. Her idea of a good time is “reading essays on quantum mechanics or Sudoku.” 

The author uses some great metaphors with strong story-themed words. Words like: “eyes like a solar prominence,” and a “cacophony of what sounded like a spacecraft being crushed by an intense gravitational field.”

The story made me laugh out loud several times. It’s a full-circle story that this listener found satisfying. If you like science fiction, appreciate some snark, and actual science in your fiction, you’ll like this story.


I’ve already said it, but it bears repeating. I love this story. It’s layered, has a few twists, and is a complete story. Could it be improved? Perhaps, but you don’t need perfection when the character, the plot, the narrator voice, and the scientific information all blend into an engaging story. 

If you liked this review, you might like other Story Time Reviews posts.

Did you listen to this story?

What did you think? 

Image Credit

Top image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Story Time Reviews: “Solemnity – Firing Blanks”

Story Time Reviews is a blog series that reviews stories both read and read aloud. Today’s post introduces you to “Solemnity – Firing Blanks” by Richard Noel. It’s a space opera short story, 22:44 minutes long, performed by Chris Herron on Tall Tale TV. 

Image is of the interior of a space ship looking down a track toward a cargo door. To the upper left of the door are two red lights and along the left side of the image are three half-round objects on a raised platform that one guess might be engine parts.

The Story

In a future space ship, in another galaxy, a crew works to keep their ship flying toward a interplanetary war. The ship carries machines that can make a huge difference in the war’s outcome. The point of view of this story comes from a crewman on this ship. While he has no strong opinion, his shipmates are disdainful and not at all compassion for these weapons. Genetically engineered machines, they are biological machines, warriors. 

The brief story’s themes touch on prejudice, discrimination, and the nature of programming machines versus what makes us human.

By the submission specifications of Tall Tale TV, this story is no more than 6,000 words long. Such a short story can’t devote many words to characterization and I found most of the characters to be flat. The narrator of the story has more dimension. 

The climax of the story is gruesome and heroic and offers food for thought on the serious social issues it touches upon. 

By the denouement, the narrator feels more natural and relatable. It is a bit too on-the-nose for me. Long before the story ended, I saw the line coming. 

The Author

I could not find a website, web bio, or other social media presence for the author. From the brief bio at the end of the performance, Richard Noel is from the United Kingdom. He enjoys writing science fiction and fantasy short stories as a hobby. 

The Voice Talent

Headshot of Christopher Herron, audiobook narrator. His face is partly turned to the left. He's lips are tight and somewhat downturned and one eyebrow is lowered and his eye squints. The total expression is somewhat skeptical.
Christopher Herron

Born in Arizona in 1983, Christopher Herron dabbled in writing and loved to read prior to becoming legally blind because of complications from type 1 diabetes. The sudden rupture of a blood vessel in his eye caused him to lose vision, to lose the ability to read, to escape into fiction. This loss caused him a lot of distress and depression. His wise wife took him to the library and helped him check out audiobooks and his new passion was born. 

Fortunately, he learned and changed his life. His vision stabilized, and after about nine months, he could read again. But his new passion had taken hold. He shifted his focus from writing to learning new skills and becoming an audiobook narrator.

Now he runs a YouTube channel and podcast, with a presence on various social media, called Tall Tale TV. He narrates short stories written by indie writers on his channel. Read his about me on his website. It is delightful and inspiring. Seriously, read it.

Image is the logo for tall tale tv website and shows a grainy, scratched metal tv box with red dials, a slide bar on the bottom and in the dark screen the words Tall Tale TV. The initials TV are inside a white drawing of an 50s style tv with antenna. White lettering spells the words Monday • Fridays in a black band across the bottom

The quality of the production is very good. Herron has a pleasant and expressive voice. His range is not large, at least in this story. There is some, but not a lot of tonal variation between most characters. That may be specific to this story, since the story has a narrator. Herron’s mechanical voice is recognizably different and appropriate. Overall, the lack of distinct tonal variations did not detract from my enjoying this story. 

My Opinion

The story kept my attention. In my humble opinion, keeping the audience’s attention is essential for a successful short story. Still, this is a flawed story.

Its brevity allows the author to do more telling that I customarily would like. The author’s style of writing often uses weak word choices that suggest simultaneity. And there are word choices that skate perilously close to cliché. Another flaw is that the story offers nothing new in the space opera realm. Finally, as mentioned above, the characters have little to no dimension. However, these flaws do not make the story unenjoyable because of two things: its brevity and its most successful scene. 

The most successful part of this story is the climax scene. The description is gruesome and compelling and horrifying. Because of the well-written climax, I downgraded the importance of flaws I listed above. 

Listen to the story yourself to see if you agree with my assessment.


If a story entertains, it has performed its primary function. This story kept my attention during multiple replays as I dissected it for this post. Therefore, I call it a successful story. And that’s enough for this lover of science fiction. 

Do you agree that if a story entertains, it is a successful story?

Image Credits:

Top: Image by Parker_West from Pixabay 

Second Image: Logo image for Tall Tale TV courtesy of the Tall Tale TV website.

Third Image: Headshot of Christopher Herron, an uncredited photo from  the Tall Tale TV website about me section 

First Lines for Black History Month

To celebrate black history month, I am sharing first lines from fantasy and science fiction stories by black authors from the 1800s to the 2020s.

First Line Friday

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of the month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


the cover of Blake: or, The Huts of America by Martin R Delany shows a black man on the wooden deck of a ship dressed in a loin cloth with a broken chain dangling from his foot. He has a stick in his hands swung over head like a baseball bat.

On one of those exciting occasions, during a contest for the presidency of the United States, a number of gentlemen met in the city of Baltimore.”

Blake: or, The Huts of America
by Martin R. Delany © 1859 


He stood a moment on the steps of the bank, watching the human river that swirled down Broadway.”

The Comet by W.E.B. Du Bois © 1920 


At the same time as I entered into the bush I could not stop in one place as the noises of the guns were driving me farther and farther until I travelled about sixteen miles away from the road on which my brother left me.”

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
by Amos Tutuola © 1954 



The waves flung up against the purple glow of double sleeplessness. Along the piers the ships return; but sailing I would go through double rings of fire, double fears.”

 The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany ©1962


The cover of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is a solid blue with Yellow script spelling out the title on a slant.

The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison ©1977


I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler ©1979 


One long time ago, Pretty Pearl yearned to come down from on high.

The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl
by Virginia Hamilton ©1986 

Willow Springs. Everybody knows but nobody talks about the legend of Sapphire Wade.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor ©1988 


As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, “We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast.” 

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nail Hopkinson ©1998 


In the verdant grasslands a brisk hour’s run from the coast, close enough for to spice the air with the ocean foam, thirteen solemn men sat circle, speaking of death.”

Zulu Heart by Steven Barnes ©2003

A mudslide on Walnut Lane last Saturday, brought about by heavy rains, has left eight families without homes as a “river of mud” swept whole houses from their foundations and smashed them to bits at midnight.”

The Good House by Tananarive Due ©2003 


My life fell apart when I was sixteen. Papa died.”

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor ©2010

I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart.”

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms 
by N.K. Jemisin ©2010 


The cover of the lesson has a black background. Behind the title which has red letters, there is a teal colored shell with multiple curvy lines coming out from it and twining over and through the letters of the title and the author's name.

Fifteen days before

After school, Patrice and Derrick rushed to beat mid-afternoon traffic.”

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull ©2020

My name doesn’t matter. All you  need to know is that I’m a phantom, a figment, a man who was mistaken for wait-staff twice that night—odd, given my outfit.”

We Cast a Shadow 
By Maurice Carlos Ruffin 2020


There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Many thanks to Nisi Shawl, author and teacher, for posting her research into the history of science fiction written by people of color where I found many of these titles. I could not find the first lines of some books on her list and couldn’t list them here. Read her history and commentary about her complete list of books on her site

Do You Want to Read More?

If you enjoyed this, you might like previous First Line Friday posts.

Please take a moment to share in the comments below. Which ones spoke to you? Did you buy it? If you’ve already read it, did you like it?

First Lines by Nebula Nominees

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These first lines by Nebula nominees represent the books and authors who are up for the 57th Annual Nebula Award® for best novel. The awards ceremony will be held later this month. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?

The first book cover representing the first  lines by Nebula nominees is the Cover of the Unbroken with is in tones of brown, a person with a sword in its scabbard stands in an archway arms stretched out, each braced on pillar with some tall dark non-organic form behind them.

A sandstorm brewed dark and menacing against the Qazali horizon as Lieutenant Touraine and the rest of the Balladairian Colonial Brigade sailed into El-Wast, capital city of Qazali, foremost of Balladaire’s southern colonies.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost Book 1) by Cherae Clark

Second book cover representing the first lines by nebula nominees is A Master of Djinn with steampunk gears overhead beyond which is blue sky. Below is a lone figure walking up an opulent and middle eastern looking staircase.

Archibald James Portendorf disliked stairs. With their ludicrous lengths, ever leading up, as if in some jest.”

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark 

Third book cover for first lines by nebula nominees is the cover for Machinehood. with a bluish silver background with gears and lines as if it's a computer chip, in the fore ground is a white hairless humanoid robot with a feminine waist.

Welga stared a coffee the color of mud and contemplated the irony of the word smart.”

Machinehood by S.B. Divya 

The cover of A desolation called peace shows a massive triangular window with a diamond shaped framework and a lone man stading in the center looking out at a planet surrounded by a man-made space station-like structure

To think—not language. To not think language. To think we, and not have a  tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths.

A Desolation called Peace by Arkady Martine

The world fell flat. The world fell exhausted. The world fell to rainbow-colored static, which rang through Derena’s mind as she ran from her death.

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Miranda Clarke guided her yacht, Lady Angelfish, alias Serenity, down the Illinois River, desperate to deliver the package on time.

If I Should Die by Lynette M. Burrows 

Pre-order now at your favorite online book seller.


There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Do You Want to Read More?

Check out a previous First Line Fridays featuring science fiction books.

What do you think of these first lines by Nebula nominees? You’ll put an enormous smile on my face if you tell me in the comments below—

Have you read any of these books? Which first lines spoke to you? Which ones are now on your TBR list? 

The Man in the High Castle, a Review

Amazon Prime Video version

The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick and a television series (2015-2019) now on Amazon Prime Video. It is an American Dystopian alternate history thriller.  I’ve avoided reading the novel because it reportedly is similar to what I write and I didn’t want to inadvertently copy PKD’s work. After finishing If I Should Die, I took an opportunity to watch the series. I’m told the show is only loosely based on the novel. In this review I tried to keep spoilers at a minimum, but there is at least one. You may wish to skip that clearly marked section. 

Image shows a view of The Statue of Liberty and the New York Skyline. The statue wears a red Nazi sash and instead of a torch her upheld hand is in a German salute. The cover is an Amazon Original, The Man in the HIgh Castle.

The Set Up 

In The Man in the High Castle’s world, Giuseppe Zangara assassinated the United States President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. That sets up a situation where Axis Powers won World War III. Including Washington D.C. being turned into “The District of Contamination” by a Nazi atomic bomb.  

An aging Hitler still runs the Reich which rules Europe west of the Urals and the continent of Africa. It also occupies the portion of the United States that lies to the east of the Rocky Mountains, an area called the Greater Nazi Reich (GNR). Japan rules Asia and the section of the United States west of the Rockies, the Japanese Pacific States. The Rockies are a neutral zone. 

Image of the United States of America shows the eastern portion of the US in Red with the German cross over it. The rockies are gray, indicating the neutral zone. And everything west of the Rockies has a Rising Sun indicating the Japanese Pacific States as described in The Man from the HIgh Castle.

The story takes place in 1962 in locations in the United States and Germany. Former Americans in German and Japanese territories are attempting to adjust to their status as citizens of occupied territories as are the Occupiers who are all very far from their homes and bases of support.

The Plot

A major thread throughout the television program  (SPOILER ALERT) is the existence of reels of film that show an untold variety of outcomes of the war on parallel worlds. In some of the films the U.S. is victorious. In other films the outcomes are much worse than our story’s world. Some characters wish to protect and hide the films. They believe the information could help them free themselves from their occupation. Others characters want to destroy the films. And the Nazis scientists are experimenting with a way to move between the worlds. (END SPOILER ALERT).

There are many plot holes, impossible, and improbable situations. Once I got past the my mindset that the occupation of the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the way the story says, few of the holes and improbabilities bothered me. 

Be aware that there are cultural and historical  inaccuracies that could detract from your enjoyment if they are part of your mindset or culture. 

The Pacing and Sets

Overall, the story pacing held my interest. There is plenty of action and intrigue and danger. Warning: there are explosions and violent deaths, in my opinion they were handled pretty well. But if violence isn’t your thing, this isn’t the show for you.

The settings ranged from stark to opulent. Both the pacing and the sets (locations) worked well for me.

The Characters

The book cover for The Man in the High Castle has a female standing profile in the center with a Japanese man and a man in the uniform of a Reich officer flanking her. Behind them are two flags that represent the two occupied territories of the former United States of America.
The Man in the High Castle is available as an ebook, paperback, and audio book on Amazon and other retailers.

 The characters are diverse. There are multiple factions from underground rebels who seek to restore American freedom to former Americans being assimilated into their occupiers’ cultures. There are opportunists and there are sympathizers. Some have very clear loyalties. Some appear to switch sides. And some play all sides against each other. 

In this televised series, there are several interesting and strong female characters. And you know I liked that. 

What fascinated me the most about this show were the characters. Loyalties were divided, often within families. Betrayals and reversals and reversals of reversals happened. There were characters I grew to love who spiraled destructively and characters I hated that I grew to understand. For me, this is great story telling. 

The Man in the High Castle

The show was dropped by Amazon Prime after four seasons. I imagine production costs were reason enough but according to some sources there were “creative differences” also. 

I made a purposeful decision to not read the book before writing My Soul to Keep. Will I read the book? Absolutely, but I’ll still wait until after I’ve finished the Fellowship Dystopia series. There are enough similarities between the two stories that I don’t want to risk confusing myself. Do I think having watched the show will alter how I approach the third book in the series? I doubt it. In my opinion, there’s a huge difference between the foreign occupation in The Man in the High Castle and a take over from within like the one in the Fellowship Dystopia.

Also there’s a big difference between writing for television and writing a book. Besides with two books written, I’m pretty deeply immersed in the world of the Fellowship. Some of the critiques of the televised series will influence me in that I’ll try to avoid similar inaccuracies.

Do I recommend watching the show? If you love thrilling, alternate history with a science fictional bent…you will be hooked by the televised series of The Man in the High Castle.

Have you watched The Man in the High Castle? What did you think?

Image Credit: Middle image is by RedFoxJinx, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons