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I made a point to read about three hundred books this year and while I cheated somewhat in my list, counting comics, I have to say that I enjoyed most of the works I read and managed to get my TBR pile underneath 230 books. Which is impressive because it started at about 300 and I was determined to read them all but kept adding. Yes, it is a vicious cycle, addiction to reading. Soon I’ll be begging on corners for Joe Abercrombie and possibly going to those vicious dens where they give out free samples. Those..libraries. Ugh.

Here’s my picks for my Top Five Favorite Indie Books this year. The books themselves didn’t have to come out in 2023 but it certainly helped if they did.

this thing of darkness1. This Thing of Darkness by Allan Batchelder


Blurb: History tells us that William Shakespeare died in April of 1616.

Or did he?

What if the “William Kemp” who set sail from England for the New World in April of 1619 was actually the bard in disguise? How would he adjust to life in the Virginia Colony? How would he interact with the Powhatans? And what if he was forced to do battle with a monster out of legend?

This is the story of Shakespeare’s second life.

Mini-Review: William Shakespeare faked his death to live in Jamestown but now he has to deal with what’s probably a werewolf. If that synopsis sounds utterly batshit crazy, you’re absolutely right it is but it’s also incredibly well-researched and compelling from one of my favorite indie fantasy authors. Allan Batchelder writes an excellent horror novel here and it takes its cracked premise as seriously as possible, which just makes its oddity all the more fun.

2. Wicked West by Matthew Davenport


Blurb: Sammy Howell died at 89, but she signed a contract to continue on as a digital avatar. She didn’t expect it would be the bloodiest wild west game ever.

When Sammy passed, she chose to continue on as a digital avatar in a game world, downloaded and considered dead by her family, but her avatar could stream games and earn revenue. Revenue that could be put toward helping better her granddaughter, Winifred’s, life.

Sammy could be her guardian angel.

She wanted a basic farming simulator, perhaps something set in the 1800’s, like those old shows she used to watch.

That’s how she found herself in Wicked West.

Mini-Review: I enjoy Matthew Davenport’s books as comfort food for the brain. There’s something to be said for the books that are just an enjoyable ride to relax when everything else in the world is falling apart. Here, Wicked West has the delightfully offbeat premise of a woman who gets an afterlife package as part of her life insurance and ends up downloaded into an MMORPG in what probably would be be a decent story of how that came to be on its own. In this case, it’s akin to Red Dead Redemption Online and she’s really sick of the griefers and trolls who make this digital heaven into Hell for the locals. So there’s a new sheriff in town.

3. Eldritch Prisoners by various and edited by David Hambling

Blurb: Earth is home to us, but to others it is a prison planet, where alien convicts are imprisoned in human bodies. Four tales by veteran Cthulhu Mythos authors explore the collisions between humans and unwilling visitors among us.

“Broken Singularity” by David Conyers: Former soldier Harrison Peel is resurrected on a vacuum shrouded moon on the edge of the galaxy after a million-year, dead-but-undreaming slumber and forced to repeat the same day endlessly. Why is he ordered to collect alien artefacts and how is his fate entangled with three peculiar incidents in Earth’s distant past? Can he break the endless repeating day before he descends into eternal madness?

“The Prisoner from Beyond” by Matthew Davenport: After the Civil War, two surviving members of the Esoteric Cavalry head west to recruit, and tame the land. Barrenstand is a town with a problem, a new man at the edge of town is giving them nightmares … that bite. Who is the stranger and where, exactly, did he come from?

“Body Snatchers” by David Hambling: In 1920’s London, investigator Harry Stubbs is drawn into a case involving an apparent madman with impossible knowledge, and discovers a web of strange sects, multiple identities and an ancient conflict between occult powers, leading to an unforgettable graveyard encounter.

“Leng’s Labythinth” by John DeLaughter: Exchange student Francois Delapont is a man on the run. After he witnesses a ritualistic murder in Chartres, inhuman forces pursue him to discover the apocalyptic secrets behind the cabalistic rites he observed. Will he escape them or die during an interrogation that promises to literally turn him inside out?

Mini-Review: The Cthulhu Mythos continues a hundred years after its creation with the short story, “Dagon” in 1919. Modern creators have very different assumptions about the fall of man, the cosmic insignificance of humanity, and whether or not it’s possible to love a fish man or not. David Hambling is one of my all-time favorite Neo-Mythos writers and his assembled anthology here is a favorite. The cover just sucks you in but the writing is what mixes horror as well as pulp.

4. Ego Boost by Eric Malikyte


Blurb: Paul Anderson Fou’s life is about to change. This rather boring fast-food worker has been offered a chance of a lifetime. Dynamo, a mysterious girl–the only one who’s ever willingly talked to him–has gifted him the key to his dreams of MMO stardom, a chance to dig himself out of his successful brother’s basement, to make something of himself.

But, as bodies start piling up all over Neo Rackham, attracting the attention of a relentless detective with a cybernetic eye, Paul’s life is certain to become far more complicated than he ever dreamed.

The price for fame is high.

And some deals are too good to be true.

Paul is about to find that out the hard way.

Mini-Review: Ego Trip is a fantastic book that updates the cyberpunk genre for the concerns of the modern day. Cyberpunk has had something of an arrested development since the Nineties as the future it envisioned was one that was primarily imagined in the Eighties. Here, the story of a twisted bunch of influencers and Twitch streamer assassins plus virtual reality as well as wholesale economic collapse was awesome.

5. Cold Sleep by Luke Hindmarsh


Blurb: It’s the perfect score—stealing valuable data from a VIP in cryo-freeze midway through a decades-long interstellar crossing. If it works, Kara will have enough money to buy what she’s always wanted—a Captaincy.

But with the rest of the crew and the cargo of one hundred thousand colonists still frozen, Kara and her accomplice, Zed, realize they’re not the only ones awake. The murdered woman they find is only the first victim of whoever or whatever has woken from Cold Sleep…

Mini-Review: Cold Sleep is a great book that is based around a pretty standard video game sci-fi premise. There’s a isolated spaceship carrying a bunch of passengers that gets infected with something that turns the majority of them into zombies: System Shock, Dead Space, and probably others I’m not thinking of. 

Bonus Pick

 Space Punks by Anna Mocikat


Blurb: From the bestselling, internationally published author of Behind Blue Eyes!

One hundred years ago humanity won the war against Artificial Intelligence, but at a horrible price. At least so it seems…

David ends up in a high-security prison on the Martian moon Deimos, but he has no memory of how or why he got there—something that doesn’t really matter since anyone sent to this hellhole is sent there to die. Luckily, David meets Aztec, a purple-haired cyborg girl, who is as fierce as she is captivating.

Aztec isn’t in prison by coincidence: she’s been hired to help someone escape and brings David along on the jailbreak.

And that’s only the beginning of David’s adventure. He winds up on a spaceship with the most notorious mercenaries in the galaxy.

However, this crew is far more than mere guns-for-hire. Secrets and hidden identities abound aboard this mysterious vessel, which turns out to be a warship in disguise. As David struggles to reclaim his memories, he finds himself entangled in a vast conspiracy that holds the potential to reshape humanity’s fate.

And the seemingly defeated enemy lurks in the shadows, ready to strike again…

Cyborgs, robots, mechs, and epic space battles!

Spacepunks is an adrenaline-fueled adventure, the perfect read for fans of The Expanse and Cyberpunk 2077.

Mini-Review: I am a huge fan of Anna Mocikat’s BEHIND BLUE EYES and absolutely love her sexy sci-fi settings that are full of action as well as tortured antiheroes. Space Punks takes place in the solar system after Earth has been devastated in a war with AI. Humans only exist on their various colonies and are constantly feuding for the remaining resources. The crew of this particular starship is a fun laid back bunch and I enjoyed reading their adventures.

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