Series review Book 1-11, Short Tales From Earth's Final Chapter: Book 1 & 2, Flash Fiction Book-markers 1-6
In-depth review by Ram T.
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Sergei Kritzien
Weaving a credible Science Fiction world is perhaps one of the hardest accomplishments in the literary world. Julian Fernandes does an admirable job with the reliable support of Sergei Kritzien’s vivid art.
Our first EFC book drops us in the middle of a desolate landscape, the aptly name Blackened Forest. The world has been devastated by cataclysmic conflict, its surface almost unrecognizable. 200+ years since the event called the ‘Last War’, Earth’s residents are hell-bent on proving that it is not an accurate name.
Loner Avinon is distracted from his hunt by slavers leading three slaves. Partly because of his hatred of slavery and partly for his attraction to the female slave, Avinon intervenes. As it is in the real world, our hearts often lead us to consequences that our brains warn us about.
Their tech hunt leads them to an ancient bunker from which soldiers of the Planetary Council (PC) are attempting to retrieve a ‘moon jumper’. The trio intervene, making a very powerful enemy.
Most of the tech, from mech war machines to killer mini-drones to spacecraft, is not revolutionary but contributes to a realistic post-apocalyptic world. We are also given glimpses of telepathic abilities between species.
From an emotional angle, there is an attraction between Avinon and Tara as well as affection and respect between Avinon and Tone. Human bonds will prevail despite painfully difficult circumstances. Can the vestiges of this budding family flourish in a place that does not guarantee even their survival?
Avinon is a strong book to establish the groundwork for a SciFi series.
2 - Captain Taylor: The Starship Ceu
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Leonardo Guinard
The second EFC book is set in space. Starship Ceu of the Planetary Council (PC) has been tasked to explore distant planets that hold promise as second Earths. Instead, it floats in between worlds in front of an alien ship that will not respond to any attempt at communication.
A clash of personalities and the poison of unchecked ambition will split the Ceu in more ways than one. Unknown to any of the conflicting parties, the momentous discovery is not theirs alone; they are being observed by another vessel which has also come from Earth.
Back on Earth, the head of the PC is making the first moves on a chessboard he hopes will destroy other surviving cities, leaving the PC the unchallenged superpower.
A new setting, and the revelation that none of the players are aware of all the others, sets the EFC up for a thrilling tangle of storylines.
3 – Brother Leon
Written by Nathan Banks, illustrated by John Hawkins
We return to Earth in the third book of the EFC series, this time to the remnants of Europe. Led by Emperor and General, Massimo, the European United Alliance (EUA) based in Fatima, (Portugal) is struggling. Apart from the weight of food shortages and incessant terrorist attacks, the General must contend with the absence of his three eldest sons.
Amidst these tensions, Brother Leon of a rural monastery has uncovered a bunker that reveals crucial information about the Last War. Unknown to him, his knowledge of the area has brought him to the ruler’s attention.
Brother Leon and the prince’s youngest son, Vincente are part of an expedition to the Northern Isles. A creature from beyond the grave lies in wait, thirsting for blood. Their rescue also lies in someone from the other side of death.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The EFC is plagued by many of the same problems that we see on the news today. A competent book but the final reveal was disappointingly not as unexpected as it could have been.
4 - Kay: Capital City Arena Champion
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Maria F. Loscher
Book 4 of the EFC is set in Capital City which has adopted an ancient but bloody tradition – gladiator fighting. Our protagonist is Kay, which is definitely not her real name. As the story unfolds, it is clear that she is taking great pains to hide her origins… and also that she is not doing it very successfully.
One of the most powerful people in the city is Willa Wilder, a well-connected master manipulator who takes more than a passing interest in Kay. Despite her affection, she thinks nothing of continuing to pit Kay against man and beast in the Arena. Neither Kay’s character nor her body will survive intact.
We are also introduced to The Hunter and His Hounds, albeit only in mention. I eagerly anticipated his debut in Book 7 and it did not disappoint.
Intrigue, deception and conspiracy abound in this chapter of the series. The artwork is a departure from what we saw in the first three books and a bold one. A satisfying connector between parts.
5 – Chibuzo: The Goblin Shark
Written by GD Penman, illustrated by Sergei Kritzien
After land and space, we come to the oceans in Book 5 of the EFC series. Just as it was in the buccaneer days of old, ships and ports attract myriad unsavory characters who populate this book.
We follow Chibuzo, a mutant who proves himself worthy of being made a crewman on the pirate ship Goblin Shark. The other violent, sadistic mutants who make up the crew are a sad and/or sorry lot, depending on your perspective. The vessel undergoes a spontaneous crew shuffle. Characters that were spared will surely make a comeback in future novels, some with gratitude and others with bloodlust.
Where there are pirates, there is bound to be treasure. Chibuzo uncovers what may be the biggest prize in the world. With a find like that, you are bound to have a target on your back.
The twist at the end of this novel did catch me right off guard. It seems that politicians and parties can rely surreptitiously on the loyalties of the very people they otherwise openly oppress. A good pace, likable characters and that twist make Chibuzo a great read.
6 – ARK Part 1
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Arijit Gupta
In the mega city of Leo Mega, mutations are increasing and the Council is resorting to disappearances and murder. One line from the novel sums it up: The PC is an illusion and its citizens are prisoners.
Human and mutant refugees flee for the ARK (Alliance of Rebels for Knowledge), unaware that it is falling. The PC’s noose of relentless attacks on both the ARK and its trading partners is tightening. Food reserves dwindle and hunger may eliminate what the War did not.
The ARK has been working on a plan to escape the PC once and for all. Unfortunately, it is years from completion and they need to buy time as the Council’s troops close in. Parties head out across the wilderness in search of allies, who may turn out to be only a rumor.
This is one of the darker novels of the EFC. Sure, there was violence and killing and terrorism before but it takes a darker shade here. I thought I knew why this name was chosen for the novel but there is another exciting reason, too…
7 – The Hunter and His Hounds
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Alejandro Aravelo
This episode boomerangs us back to the first book of the series. We are introduced to the brutal, unforgiving man known as the Hunter and his even more terrifying pack of dogs. The storyline follows the Hunter as he trails Avinon, Tara and Tone, our protagonists from Book 1.
Glimpses of humanity show through the Hunter when he thinks of his own family but it is only for contrast against his deeds at other times. A chance meeting shakes him, perhaps for the first time in his life. The aftermath is puzzling and meanders from SciFi to steampunk but fascinatingly so.
A reckoning is in store for the Hunter but in his way are the PC troops who are also on the same trail. Blood and guts but little glory are the reward.
The violence in this book is graphic and uncompromising, following a trend started in Book 6: ARK and intensifying it. You may not want to dwell on the details but the artwork will pull your eyes to it. An amazing read.
8 – Homestead Hunts
Written by Christina ‘DZA’ Marie, illustrated by John Hawkins
Book 8 of the EFC series explores life in an isolated community that has developed a uniquely morbid social hierarchy based on the predator-prey mutations of its population. Somewhat akin to the ‘Purge’ series of films, this episode deals with the tensions between two groups of residents sharing the same space and resources in an isolated ecosystem.
As always, politicians and their doublespeak are the force behind social upheaval and chaotic developments. There are twists and turns enough to keep you guessing and a glimpse into a seemingly nature-worshipping tribe whose God turns out to be rather less than one.
Homestead Hunts is longer than the rest of the books, perhaps slightly unnecessarily so. However, the art is among the best of the series. I love unexpected reveals and was not disappointed in that regard, both in terms of who dies and who lives. An investment of reading time that pays good dividends.
9 - Kyo
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Marta Maszkiewicz
Finally, we dive under the waves and uncover the nation of Japan which Book 2 introduced. The Japanese islands have sunk and Atlantis-like memories of the country around the world are more legend than fact. In reality, the Japanese have been living in self-imposed exile. Never known to be idle, they have created an undersea Utopia by developing advanced technology.
A vessel of the Oceanic Alliance inadvertently discovers the undersea civilization and cannot be allowed to leave. Kyo, head of The Five Families that runs the nation is conflicted but the choice may surprise everyone.
Kyo’s decision to add another ‘dimension’ to Japanese civilization unsettles the rest of the administration. His reluctance to command is inspired by bigger responsibilities but the ultimate decision may be made for him through a coup.
Kyo gives readers a good change of pace from the relentless (but literary necessity of the) carnage of the past couple of books. Political intrigues are back at the head of the agenda but the story weaves a captivating spell that ties several earlier strands together.
10 – Point Mega
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Jennifer Slater
Point Mega, one of the jewels in the PC crown, is not as stable nor secure as most residents allow themselves to believe.
Stirrings of rebellion, albeit more peaceful than we have seen in previous books, hint at the upheaval soon to come. People are beginning to flee the megacity, lured by tales of freedom and opportunity outside. The PC is not taking kindly to this development, fearing a larger exodus will weaken it from the core and hemorrhage people and resources to potential rival civilizations.
We are also introduced to a new ‘breed’ of protagonists. There were inklings of the latter’s particular vision of rebellion against the PC in the earlier books but the plan is more overt now, as is the action that stems from it.
What is SciFi without robots? Fans of Asimov (like me!) will find this to be the most delightful episode so far in the EFC’s first volume.
Short Tales From Earth’s Final Chapter: Book 1
- Shadrag and the Monster of the Chateau by Mandy Gardner, illustrated by Sergei Kritzien
- Last Call at the Razorback Lounge by GD Penman, illustrated by Subaru Kodama
- Top Hat by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Alexey Sarambaev
- Europa-1: 200 Years from Home, illustrated by Filip Cekic
Shadrag and the Monster of the Chateau takes us back to the frightful mansion we saw in Book 3: Brother Leon. We are made privy to the tragic beginnings of the eponymous creature as well as the carnage borne of good intentions. There is a distinct element of the fantasy genre embedded in this tale, something that may make for a curious union as newer chapters of the EFC unfold.
Set entirely within the space of an hour and within the confines of a small bar, Last Call at the Razorback Lounge features only two characters for almost the entire story. Penman does an excellent job of spinning a tale around these limited resources and the ending is a laugh-out-loud flourish. I loved it!
Top Hat is arguably more horror than SciFi and could have been set in any number of fictional worlds apart from the EFC’s. While the bulk of the story did not particularly pull at my interest, the final act did leave me yearning for a sequel. A masterful ending to a lukewarm story.
Concluding this series of shorts is Europa-1: 200 Years from Home, a true case of saving the best for last. The Europa colony on Jupiter’s moon, isolated from Earth and its resources for the past 200 years has what seems to be a ghost problem. Analyst and all-round rational individual Arnsen Thottes is asked to investigate and uncovers secrets that will have interplanetary repercussions. The last line of this story sent a chill down my spine.
Writing this just after reading the last story, I am amazed at what can be done with just a few words. Apart from the first story, the endings of each of these tales were instrumental in creating a wonderful twist that will stay with readers. All of them were above par. Essential reading for the EFC fan.
10 – Sparrows
Written by Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Maria F Loscher
Because the novel narrates several parallel and intertwining story-lines, there is no single ‘main’ protagonist. Arguably, the most prominent of them – at least in this book – is Kumar. His small group of survivors breaks away from their respective clans to form a ‘family’. They call themselves the Sparrows, giving the novel its name.
However, the story begins with a child, Elena. Alone but not afraid, Elena navigates treacherous jungles and the beasts within; she explores long-forgotten cities where even greater dangers lie hidden. In a surviving metropolis, Machiavellian bureaucrat Faust makes his way around the corridors of power that may prove just as perilous and no less forgiving.
Mysterious monk Umbra approaches the end of a decade-long quest but may falter at the final threshold, the sacrifices of his dead companions in vain. In his way stands Officer Embry of the PC who has her own demons to conquer.
The story hurtles forward at a relentless pace. There is hardly a page devoid of action, dialogue or exposition that propels the plot along. When we are given a respite, it is to expand on individual character arcs and interpersonal relationships. I liked the rich tapestry of personalities, settings and unexpected connections that Fernandes has woven here.
The ‘lost technology’ angle of post-apocalyptic SciFi has always fascinated me and this novel delivers it in generous helpings. Unconventional journeys of self-discovery are another favorite of mine. It was poignant how Umbra realizes that his mission is almost complete but the price he has paid is his humanity.
Elena is characterized by strength and resilience but also exhibits the common child's flaw of knowing exactly what's good for her… until it backfires. Kumar is haunted by self-doubt, leading for the first time and straight into battle at that.
The characters are very well-developed for a novel as short as this. Fernandes manages to imbue depth into them, even those we meet in fleeting glimpses. I was almost afraid to be too emotionally invested in some of them because Sparrows has a propensity to kill them off ala Game of Thrones in its early (and much better) seasons.
Politics does not particularly enthrall me in real life and that is probably why the political intrigues of the storyline did not, either. That is not to say that they were irrelevant; quite the opposite, Fernandes seems to be setting up a very textured exploration of how life is very seldom black and white but more often grey.
The EFC series seems to be aimed at teens early in their discovery of science fiction. In that respect, Book 11: Sparrows does what it sets out to do, and more. It wouldn’t surprise me that down the track, many adults will look back fondly at this book (and this series) as the start of their love of the SF genre.
Short Tales from Earth’s Final Chapter: Book 2
- The Sea Dragon by Christina 'DZA' Marie, illustrated by Patricio Rodriguez
- Black Sails Sales by Andrew Hinnis and Julian Fernandes, illustrated by Ivan Dominguez
- Family Ties by Bradly Heywood, illustrated by John Hawkins
- The Kingdom by Christian Terry, illustrated by Ekaterina Soyuznova
Our first adventure, The Sea Dragon takes us back to the underwater Japanese civilization. The magnificent creature we encountered in Book 9: Kyo is under the watchful eye of scientists but also of politicians. That is never a good mix. Discoveries are being reduced empirically to their base value to be exploited in a world struggling against extinction. Scientist Aguri must think out of the box, and out of the dome, to prevail.
Black Sails Sales also reconnects us with previous characters, this time to the four-person party that left their bunker in Book 6: ARK Part 1 in search of allies and resources. Are they on a fool’s errand searching for the Black Sails Sales? Either way, they cannot go back empty-handed to the people who have entrusted them with their future.
The next story, Family Ties touches on themes and ideas that have not really been broached in the EFC world thus far, through characters we have not met before, either. Told in a style that sets it apart from anything else in the series, I think Family Ties will take me a couple of more reads to fully appreciate… and understand. But I will thoroughly enjoy every reading.
The last, The Kingdom is an episode featuring a society whose attitudes to mutation stand in distinct contrast to anything we have seen previously in the EFC saga. We have seen the affected individuals be despised, tolerated and ignored but here, they are deified. How far will people go to reach their gods… and to become gods?
I thoroughly enjoyed this second collection of short tales from EFC. Its mix of characters we know and those we don’t weave a compelling tale that is well written. This is probably the most unmissable book of the EFC so far. A great place to begin if you are new to the series and an even better place to delve deeper if you are already a fan.
Flash Fiction Book-markers
- EFC Bookmarker 1: Paladin
- EFC Bookmarker 3: Fafi
- EFC Bookmarker 4: Bunker 283
- EFC Bookmarker 7: The Curse
- EFC Bookmarker 9: The Lost Fortune
- EFC Bookmarker 13: A Good Hunt
6 stories, mainly with between one and three characters, these mini-episodes fill the spaces between the cement of the rest of the EFC universe. Although virtually entirely independent of the main story-lines of the novellas, they do add a depth of perspective in this compressed format.
The flash fiction series was a bit of hit and miss for me but might not be for every EFC fan. If you are looking for insights into smaller characters or story-line offshoots, this series of six 5-minute reads is a good way to spend some free time.